JALPAIGURI: Two passengers of the Chandigarh-Dibrugarh Express (train 15904) jumped to death in panic after the two engines of the train caught fire and the flames spread to their compartment near Chattar Hat station, about 20 km from New Jalpaiguri, on Friday morning.
It appears that the two were the only ones in the sitting-cum-luggage coach when the incident occurred around 11.20 am. According to a source, the fuel tank of the front locomotive got detached from the undercarriage and scraped the ground resulting in sparks, which led to the rear end of the engine catching fire. Soon it spread to the second locomotive as the train sped towards NJP station.
After the second engine was gutted and the blaze started moving towards their coach, the two apparently made a desperate attempt to save their lives by jumping out of the train. While one died of multiple injuries, the other had his head smashed. The two could not be identified and the bodies were taken to North Bengal Medical College and Hospital for autopsy on Saturday.
The fire was spotted by the driver of a passing goods train, who alerted the express train loco pilot over his walkie-talkie and emergency brakes were applied. Had this not happened, the flames could have spread to the other compartments.
While Northeast Frontier Railway (NFR) has ordered a high-level inquiry, the Commissioner of Railway Safety is also likely start a probe into the accident.
Passengers complained that they were forced to spend nearly four hours at Chattar Hat station without food or water. “The locomotive was attached at the Katihar station, barely 200 km from Chattar Hat. It is clear that proper checks were not carried out, or the fire wouldn’t have occurred. Hundreds of passengers were at risk,” D M Dubey, a passenger travelling from Gorakhpur to Dibrugarh said.
Firdaus Ali, who was travelling to Barpeta Road in Assam with his seven-year-old daughter, said passengers didn’t get food or water at Chattar Hat where the train was stranded. “The situation was pathetic,” he said.
According to P J Sharma, CPRO, NFR, fire was detected as the train approached Chattar Hat. “Immediately on receipt of information, fire department staff left NJP for the site. A railway medical team along with accident relief train also reached the spot. The unaffected coaches were hauled by another locomotive to Chattar Hat station. The unaffected coaches started for NJP around 3.35 pm. The division railway manager of Katihar and Sanjive Roy, general manager, NFR, also rushed to the site,” Sharma said.
The bodies were recovered by the railway medical team and it seems that they were in the SLR coach with unreserved tickets, Sharma added. He also claimed that the bodies didn’t have any burn injuries.
State tourism minister Goutam Deb visited the Chattar Hat station and distributed some food and water to passengers. He also accused the railways of negligence.