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Friday, February 13, 2009

18 coaches of Coromandel Express derail in Orissa, 15 dead

BHUBANESWAR: Within hours of railway minister Lalu Prasad gloating over his safety record during his budget speech in Parliament, one of the

country's flagship expresses derailed from its tracks on Friday, leaving at least 15 passengers dead and about 60 injured, many of them critically.

Reports from the railways said 18 coaches of the Coromandel Express derailed at 7.50pm near Jajpur Road in Orissa, 120 km north of Bhubaneswar. Three of the coaches were totally crushed. The train had left Howrah station on Friday afternoon and was to reach Chennai on Saturday evening.

"We have 15 people dead," the spokesman for eastern railways, Murlidhar Sahoo, told AFP.

The number of dead could go up steeply, officials feared, because many passengers were still trapped in the overturned coaches. Rescue operations were hampered because of darkness.

The train was travelling at a very high speed. Lalu Prasad said a probe will be ordered into the accident.

"Suddenly there was a lurch and a screeching sound, as if brakes had been applied. The whole train shook violently from side-to-side and we were thrown off our berths,'' said Rajendra Singh, a passenger in S-5 coach, who survived without any injury. ``There was a tumbling sensation as everything seemed to be turning upside down. We were terrified. After what seemed to be a long time, the rolling and screeching stopped,'' he said from the accident spot on phone. He said he had joined rescuers in trying to help trapped passengers. The coaches badly damaged were S-1 to S-3 and S-6 to S-8, he said.

While officials at Jajpur refused to speculate about the cause of the accident until senior railway brass arrived, they confirmed that the worst-hit coaches were the ones closest to the engine. These included one luggage-cum-sleeper coach, two unreserved coaches and 11 second class sleeper coaches. The train had a total of 24 coaches and the AC cars were towards the tail-end, officials said.

While local policemen were trying to extricate survivors and bodies with their bare hands, railways commissioned rescue teams with gas cutters and requisitioned help from nearby industries.

Lalu Prasad has said minister of state for Railways R Velu and Railway Board chairman S S Khurana have been asked to proceed to the site of the accident.

Earlier in the day, Lalu had boasted about how Indian Railways had become safer under his stewardship.

"In the last five years, there has also been a significant improvement in railway safety and a steep reduction in the number of railway accidents. The number of consequential accidents came down to 194 in 2007-08 as against 325 in 2003-04,'' he said.


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