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Monday December 4, 1:15 AM

Cracks in defective rail derailed the train

NEW DELHI, DECEMBER 3: It is almost certain that the goods train derailed in Fatehgarh Sahib because of a rail fracture and not due to any sabotage as railway minister Mamata Banerjee suggested.

Sources said it was clear by a close examination of the accident site that the main cause behind the tragedy was a crack in the rail. ``It is a typical rail fracture derailment. By the way the coaches piled upon one another in an arrow form after derailing, it could not have been anything else,'' said an official.

Explaining how it must have happened, he said, a small fissure in the track would have widened due to vibrations of the goods train. ``It is a characteristic case. The first few coaches pass over the track but by then the gap has increased. The next coach then gets stuck in the fracture and derails along with the the coaches behind. The speed causes the telescoping effect, causing the coupling to break. This is what happened as the coaches of the goods train fell on the adjacent track, obstructing the path of oncoming Howrah-Amritsar Mail,'' he said.

Incidentally, the track has the same rails -- manufactured by Steel Authority of India Limited (SAIL) -- which were pronounced ``defective'' by Chief Commissioner Railway Safety (CCRS) M. Mani following the Khanna accident in which over 220 people were killed. The rails were found to have ``hydrogen intrusion'' in a quantity much higher than the prescribed limit of 0.3 per cent.

However, Mani had recommended ``close monitoring'' of the rails in case they could not be replaced. ``But Railways neither replaced them nor monitored them,'' sources said. The railways were supposed to buy two mobile Ultrasonic Flaw Detection (USFD) machines, each costing Rs 5 crore, and two Wheel Impact Load Detector (WILD) machines, each costing Rs 1 crore.

``Obviously, the Railways thought that Rs 12 crore was too much to spend for safety of passengers. They prefer spending on projects and new lines which get some political mileage for the minister,'' said an official. Another safety enhancing device, the purchase of which the Railways are dithering over since the Firozabad accident in 1995, is simulators to train the drivers.

``All over the world, train drivers are trained on simulators to make their reflexes sharper. They are exposed to various kinds of situations which they might not come across in real life till it is too late. Their responses are tested as the computer gives them ratings. The simulators would cost the Railways quite a bit -- around Rs 180 crore -- but then they have to decide if they want to spend so much for safety of passengers,'' he added. The railways carry more than 12 million passengers everyday.

Copyright © 2000 Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Ltd.


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