The annual Dussehra festival ended in a tragedy in Amritsar, Punjab, on October 19, 2018, when a speeding train ran over hundreds of people watching burning of Ravana effigy on a railway track. At least 61 people were feared dead with the fatalities expected to rise. The accident took place at Dhobi Ghat near Jaura Phatak and two trains arrived from the opposite direction at the same time giving little opportunity to people to escape. There were at least 300 people at the accident spot and many of the dead included children. Most of the victims are migrant labourers.
As per an eyewitness, the train just took 15 seconds to pass but it left behind a heap of crushed and dismembered bodies.
The Punjab and Railway Police have detained the driver of the train. Media reports suggest that the driver was given green signal and all clear and had no idea that hundreds of people were standing on the tracks when the train crossed the area.
Eyewitnesses also said the programme was running behind schedule, as the Ravana effigy was scheduled to be burnt at 6.15 pm but the chief guest, Navjot Kaur Sidhu, who is the wife of Amritsar (East) MLA Navjot Singh Sidhu, came. There were also allegations that Navjot Kaur ran away from the site soon after the incident.
Moreover, there was no barricading near the railway tracks nor any alarm raised by the authorities or organisers. The train also did not blow the horn.
Meanwhile, Punjab Minister Navjot Singh Sidhu was quoted as saying:
“It was a sad and an unfortunate incident. It is necessary to understand that it was an accident. There has been negligence but it was never intentional or motivated.”
On their part, Railway officials said the gathering of people close to tracks was a ‘clear case of trespassing’ and no permission for the event had been given by the railways. They said the local authorities were aware of the Dussehra programme and that it was attended by a senior minister’s wife.
Clearly, the mishap puts the spotlight on a serious question: “Why people do not follow basic safety rules when it comes to crossing the tracks”. It has been said that whenever one sees tracks, they should think of train.
Here are some safety tips that one should follow when they are at rail crossings:
1. Avoid getting trapped on the tracks. Only proceed through a highway/railway crossing if you are sure you can completely clear the crossing without stopping.
2. When you are on multiple tracks, watch out for a second train on the other tracks, approaching in either direction.
3. ALWAYS EXPECT A TRAIN! Trains do not follow set schedules.
4. A train moving at 120 km/h can take up to two km or more to stop once the emergency brakes are applied.
5. The train on track is closer and faster moving so don’t get into any optical illusion.