Blame-game over deadly India train crash

2010-07-20 07:58

A probe into a rail crash in eastern India that claimed more than 60 lives is focusing on why a packed express train hurtled at high speed into a station where it was scheduled to halt.

The express roared into Sainthia station in West Bengal state at 90km/h yesterday and slammed into the rear of a stationary train waiting to leave the platform.

More than 160 people were injured and two of them died overnight, raising the overall death toll to 63.

Speculation and looming state elections in West Bengal produced a host of theories in the immediate wake of the crash, as the potential for blame was shifted between politicians and railway officials.

Indian Railway Board Chairperson Vivek Sahay suggested that human error was the most likely cause, saying the express driver had ignored a stop signal and then failed to reduce speed as he approached the station.

“Why was the train travelling so fast? The driver didn’t even touch the brakes or the emergency brakes,” Sahay told reporters.

With the express hurtling towards them, officials at Sainthia station issued frantic warnings over the public address system, telling those on the platform to run for safety.

Retired train drivers interviewed by several Indian newspapers questioned Sahay’s version of events, saying the fact that neither the driver nor his assistant attempted to apply the brakes suggested a signal failure or other technical malfunction.

Railways Minister Mamata Banerjee had initially raised the possibility of sabotage, a move her opponents said was aimed at deflecting criticism for a recent spate of train accidents on her watch.

West Bengal Civil Defence Minister Srikumar Mukherjee, an arch rival of Banerjee’s, ridiculed her hints at possible sabotage.

“The tragic accident took place because of negligence on the part of the railway administration,” Mukherjee said.

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