At 10.45 a.m. on Monday, platform 6 at Chennai Central was filled with eager and some worried faces who held a constant vigil of the railway tracks. Media persons found perches atop every bench and cement structure to capture the scene.
The atmosphere in the station was chaotic, but the new ‘Emergency’ counter and the huge police presence on the sixth platform offered solace.
Train no. 12622, Tamil Nadu Express chugged into the station without bogies S11, S12 and S13 and the guard van. S11, carrying over 80 passengers had caught fire in the small hours of Monday and at least 32 persons were charred to death. It was strange to see a train without its guard van and as the vestibule of S10 had been damaged, the entire coach could be seen. Shattered glass littered the floor of the compartment. Several berths were damaged and half-burnt clothes lay scattered on seats. Black lines along the walls of the compartment indicated that water had been poured in. The bathrooms at the end of the compartment were blackened. The smell of fire encompassed the compartment.
As the train arrived, paramedics rushed in with stretchers; when people alighted, they were hugged by friends and relatives, some with tears of joy, relieved that their kith had survived the horrifying accident.
“I am so happy to be back and meet my parents,” a young passenger who suffered minor burns said as his family surrounded him in joy. Ahmed Min and five of his colleagues who work as welders in Chromepet were returning to Chennai after visiting their families in Delhi. “We were in S12. Around 3 a.m., it was raining and water was seeping into the compartment. We could hear sparks here and there. Suddenly, we saw smoke from the bathroom towards S11,” recalled Ahmed, who jumped out of the compartment along with his friends.
The bogie was burning with many people trapped inside for an hour after which fire engines arrived and put out whatever was left, added Imran Majeed.
R. Jaikumar and his family of four were travelling in coach no. S8. The family lives in Triplicane. “It was dark and we were stranded for four hours. The police came and delinked the bogie that was burnt and then the rest of those in the other compartments also got into the train and we arrived here,” he said.
A group of employees from the Department of Posts was returning from Delhi after a conference. “Around 4.20 a.m., a Sikh gentleman ran into the compartment from S11 and woke his son who was sleeping on the upper berth. He shouted “chalo, chalo” and we also ran for the door,” said C. Anthonysami.
Since it was dark and in the middle of nowhere, the hapless passengers watched in horror as the bogie was gutted. “The flames lit up the sky. It was only at 6 a.m. that we realised the full impact of the accident. We unloaded our luggage and threw them out,” he said.
Four persons were admitted to the Railway Hospital in Perambur after they complained of chest pain; three of them had suffered minor injuries in their legs.