Fourteen coaches of a high- speed Utkal Express today jumped the rails, with one of them crashing into a house adjacent to the track near Khatauli this evening, claiming at least 23 lives and leaving a large number of passengers injured.
The accident occurred around 5.45 pm near Khatauli town in this district and left 23 people dead and over 60 injured, the Uttar Pradesh Police said. Khatauli is around 40 km from Muzaffarnagar.
Railway ministry officials in Delhi, however, put the number of dead at 12. The train was coming from Puri in Odisha and going to Haridwar in Uttarakhand, normally a journey of about 36 hours.
Posses of PAC, ATS and NDRF teams, as also sniffer dog squads, were rushed to the spot to carry out rescue operations. The injured were shifted to nearby government and private hospitals.
Heavyweight cranes and gas cutters were being used to lift or cut the mangled remains of the coaches and extricate passengers stuck inside.
Large number of local people and villagers were also seen helping out those engaged in the rescue work.
Policemen on the site said one of the derailed coaches had crashed into the wall of a house adjacent to the railway track and some people are feared to be trapped in the debris.
Anand Kumar, ADG (Law and Order), said the team of Anti- Terrorist Squad (ATS) will assist in the rescue measures and also look at any aspect of “sabotage”.
When asked by a reporter whether there was any terror angle in the accident, state DGP Sulkhan Singh said so far there was no such information, but “UP ATS will investigate into the causes of the accident.”
The coaches damaged were S1 to S10 sleeper class, third AC B1, second AC A1 coach and the pantry.
Muzaffarnagar authorities have set up a control room to assist families of those affected. The numbers are: 0131- 2436918, 0131-2436103 and 0131-2436564.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed extreme pain over the derailment and said the Railway Ministry and the state government were doing everything possible and providing all assistance required.
He said the situation was being monitored very closely by the Railways Ministry.
At least 10 passenger trains on the busy route were diverted following the accident, a Northern Railway release said.
Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu ordered an inquiry into the derailment. He said he was personally monitoring the situation and strict action will be taken in case of any lapse.
Prabhu also announced Rs 3.5 lakh ex-gratia for those who lost their lives, Rs 50,000 for the seriously injured and Rs 25,000 for those who received minor injuries.
Principal Secretary (Information) Avanish Awasthi said Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has announced a compensation of Rs 2 lakh for the kin of the dead and Rs 50,000 for those injured.
In a series of tweets, Prabhu said that Minister of State Manoj Sinha has rushed to the spot while the Chairman of Railway Board and Member Traffic have been asked to oversee rescue and relief operations.
Two National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) teams, comprising 45 personnel each, and two canines have been mobilised to the accident site from their base in Ghaziabad.
Medical vans have also been rushed to the site.
“All efforts being taken to ensure speedy relief and rescue operations,” Prabhu said.
The Railway Ministry was also in close touch with the Uttar Pradesh government to coordinate rescue and relief operations.
In Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh ADG (Law and Order) Anand Kumar said that top priority was being accorded to ensure prompt rescue and relief work.
Meanwhile, Railways spokesperson Anil Saxena said, “Initially, we thought that it was only 4-5 coaches, now we have ascertained that 14 coaches have derailed. As of now our focus is on rescue and not on finding reasons for the accident.”
Since darkness was impeding rescue operations, he said the power department officials had been directed to ensure that there was no shortage of electricity.
Kumar also said IMA chapters in Meerut zone have been alerted and asked to ensure adequate and prompt medical care to the injured.
Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath enquired about the accident and directed officials to take all possible action, an official spokesperson said.
Adityanath has directed two of his ministers — Suresh Rana and Satish Mahana — to reach the site to expedite rescue and relief operations.