Hyderabad : Sixteen persons — 14 school children, the driver and the cleaner — were killed as a train ploughed into a private school bus at an unmanned railway crossing in Telangana’s Medak district on Thursday morning.
The bus driver had decided to avoid the regular manned railway crossing and take a shorter route; his failure to spot the oncoming Nanded-Secunderabad passenger train at the unmanned crossing is being attributed to the fact that he was talking on the mobile when the mishap occurred.
Incidentally, the regular bus driver was on leave and the deceased was filling in for him. He was ferrying about 40 students of a private school – mostly aged between 5 and 15.
At last 20 students were injured, seven of them critically, and rushed to Yashoda hospital in Hyderabad.
It was a heart-rending scene at the site of the mishap, with books, school-bags and lunch boxes strewn around and inconsolable parents standing near the bodies. One parent had lost his three children; another suffered cardiac arrest after he came to know that both his children had died.
As rescue workers went through the mangled heap, parents sat with bodies in their laps, many mothers holding the children they had prepared for school just an hour before. One mother was seen kissing her child repeatedly.
According to eye-witnesses, the train dragged the bus for 50 metres before coming to halt. The Telangana government said it was the Railways’ responsibility to put a manned gate at the level-crossing, and that the locals were had been making this demand for a long time.
Ordering an inquiry, Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao announced Rs five lakh ex gratia each to the families of the deceased.
Around 15,000 people are killed each year while crossing the tracks on India’s vast but decrepit railway network, according to a government safety panel. Two years ago, the panel recommended that more bridges and overpasses be built on priority.