Petrol was not drained from the tanks before loading, say sources

Even as an official probe has begun into the May 22 Hampi Express accident at Penukonda, doubts are being raised whether petrol had been removed from motorcycles that had been loaded on to the second-class-cum-luggage van, which caught fire.

Sources told The Hindu that three motorcycles were loaded on to the train at Hospet station. As per the rules, petrol tanks should be dry. However, in the instant case, the petrol was not drained, sources said.

Sources alleged that petrol could have caused the fire in the coach, which was next to the engine. The majority of casualties were reported from this coach, apart from the third coach.

S.K. Mittal, Commissioner of Railway Safety, Southern Region, Bangalore, said he too was aware of the presence of motorcycles on the train. “Whether the petrol tanks of these two-wheelers were emptied or not would be known only a detailed inquiry. We are also getting forensic investigation done,” Mr. Mittal told The Hindu.

Witnesses examined

On Thursday, about 15 witnesses were examined by him and another 30 are to be examined. He will be making another visit of the accident spot on Friday. “We will complete the inquiry as soon as possible,” Mr. Mittal said.

Meanwhile, sources said loco pilot Y. Rathnam and assistant loco pilot Balaraju, who were discharged from hospital on Wednesday, attended the inquiry in the city on Thursday.

Their participation in the inquiry has become all the more important as the Railways has claimed the pilots overshot the signal ahead of the Penukonda station and the subsequent collision with the stationary goods train.

All India Loco Running Staff Association, without disputing the Railways' claim, said the pilot approaching Penukonda from Guntakal first sighted the signal on the Sri-Sathya-Sai-Prasanthi-Nilayam-Penukonda line before sighting the signal on his line, leading to confusion. Besides, this wrong setting of points towards the occupied line for Hampi Express was also another reason for the accident, the Association said.