Metro derails, 2800 trapped in tunnel

KOLKATA: The Metro now has a derailment in its near-perfect track record.After 26 long years of braving bandhs, overcoming the occasional hiccup and being the city’s most trusted chauffeur, Kolkata Metro scored a dubious first on Wednesday morning when two coaches of a Garia-bound train derailed while entering Central, trapping 2,800-odd rush-hour passengers inside the tunnel.It was simply a matter of chance that a major tragedy was averted and rescue operations could be conducted smoothly. Had the train been travelling any faster (it was cruising at about 20kmph while the permissible speed limit is 55kmph), or had it derailed far from the station, it could have been a different story.Metro authorities have started an inquiry. Railway minister Mamata Banerjee said: “I will not make any comment before the official inquiry report is in. Derailments may occur any time when trains are running. I am thankful that no one was injured. We have seen before, too, that the CPM has tried to sabotage railway tracks. We will try to find out whether there was any political angle to Wednesday’s incident.”Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee said he was deeply concerned over Metro passenger security. The police commissioner has already submitted a report.

The 8N-08/06 rake had started from Dum Dum for Kavi Subhas, loaded with passengers. At 9.21am, just as it was about to enter Central station, a severe jolt and screeching noise made passengers aware that something had gone horribly wrong. The train started shaking wildly.Moments after the train started shaking, scared passengers saw flames beneath the second compartment, caused by the wheels brushing against the electrified third rail. Yards away from the platform, the first two coaches of the train had derailed. Rescue operations began around 9.30am.The Metro rake plunged into complete darkness. For those trapped inside, it was a terrifying ordeal, made worse by the claustrophobic compartments and the complete darkness. Passengers waiting at the station could hear cries of anguish from inside.

“I was standing with my back to the motorman’s cabin. The jolt was so hard that I was hurled to the floor of the train. Passengers fell all over me. I lost consciousness after that,” said Satyabrata Dutta, who had boarded from Belgachhia.It was a horrifying situation inside. Smoke started to fill the compartment through the open windows. Some passengers complained of breathlessness and suffocation. Desperate to come out of the compartment, the passengers started banging on the doors and windows.For the passengers, every second seemed an eternity. “We just wanted to come out of the coach. No one could make out how serious the fire was. The fear of the fire spreading or electrocution loomed through our minds,” said Atreye Ghosh, a passenger. Passengers of the second coach managed to rip open two doors of the compartment and got off the train, in the narrow space between the tracks and the tunnel wall. But they found their way blocked.

“We could hear some noises coming from the front. There was no way we could move ahead. There was too much of commotion. We had no clue as to what had happened. From the compartments behind ours, we could hear people crying,” said Mrinal Sen, a passenger.It was around 9.30am that the city police, the fire brigade and RPF personnel started the rescue operation. In fact, it was the fire brigade that reached the trapped passengers first. Armed with flashlights, they entered the compartments and pacified the passengers. “The fire officers told us that the rescue operation had started and implored us not to panic,” said a passenger.

Power to the third rail was cut off and a ladder placed in front of the motorman’s cabin. The door to the rear of the cabin, opening into the first coach, was flung open, allowing passengers to come out. “Policemen stood all around us as we walked down the ladder and went towards the platform, some feet away,” said Sumita Saha, another passenger.Two of the passengers — Satyabrata Dutta and Sumana Dey — were rushed to Medical College and Hospital, from where they were discharged.It was sheer chance that a major tragedy was averted. “Since the train was about to stop at the station, it had slowed down to about 20 kmph. It was due to this reduced speed that a major tragedy was avoided,” said a senior Metro official. “It was an embarrassing situation. Passengers have every right to feel aggrieved.”

In fact, Metro staff manning the ticket counters at Central station feared a rerun of the Sovabazar violence of last Tuesday and discreetly mingled with the crowd. Thankfully, such an outburst didn’t happen.Metro services were disrupted, as only a truncated route between Kavi Subhas and Maidan operated in the south. Train services between Dum Dum and Girish Park resumed around 12.25pm. A Dum Dum-bound train, which was about to leave the station when the accident took place, was cancelled. Passengers of the train were asked to vacate. Soon after the trapped passengers were brought out, the authorities started work on putting the train back on the track and track repairs.

“Minutes before the accident, a train had passed. Had the fault been in the track, it would have been detected. On October 5, days before the extended route was opened, I had written to the Metro authorities, warning them that the experiment could be costly. Services are being offered without improving infrastructure. This is affecting everybody,” said Dilip Mukherjee, general secretary, MTP Railwaymen’s Union – Timesofindia