The day before a train in Bihar toppled over, 12 coaches sprawled on their side, a police officer in the area where the accident took place had urged his seniors and railway officials to follow a basic precaution: to run a pilot engine on the track an hour before passenger trains as a way of ensuring the tracks were intact.
His alert was sounded after Naxal insurgents called a strike in the area; it was ignored; four people died after the Rajdhani Express headed from Delhi to Assam derailed in Chapra, 75 kilometres from the state capital of Patna.
After some railway officials said the accident was sabotage, Home Minister Rajnath Singh said it’s premature to attribute the attack to the Naxals, who, in the past, have damaged railway tracks and attacked trains.
Since a mega attack on a train in Bihar in 2002 in which more than 100 people were killed, the central government ordered that pilot trains – either an engine with a driver or a freight train – will precede passenger trains which are routed through areas dominated by Naxals.
When asked why this check was not followed yesterday, Madhuresh Kumar, General Manager, East Central Railway said, “We cannot escort all trains.”
“We can’t react to a general advisory but we do react to specific advisory. But in this case we had a specific intimation from the Government Railway Police (GRP) to provide escort to the express trains on the Hajipur-Muzaffarpur railway section,” said a spokesperson of the East Central Railway, pointing out that the derailment took place on another route.
On Sunday, Sudhir Kumar Singh, the Superintendent of Police in Chapra, wrote to railway officials, senior policemen and government officers underscoring the need for special vigilance on Tuesday, when the Naxals had called their bandh. In addition to pilot engines, he stressed the need for jawans from the Railway Protection Force to pay special attention to checking train tracks in sensitive areas.
He says nobody responded.