One more passenger died of injuries in the Chitheri train collision, raising the toll to 10, the Government General Hospital in Arakkonam confirms. Over 60 passengers were injured when a speeding Mainline Electrical Multiple Unit (MEMU) train rammed into a stationary Arakkonam–Vellore passenger waiting for a signal at the Chitheri post, at 9:25 p.m. on Tuesday.
The engine car of the MEMU was crushed, and two coaches of the passenger turned turtle. In all, five coaches of the passenger train and three of the MEMU were damaged in the crash. Overhead electrical lines, cement sleepers and a section of the track were ripped out when the trains collided.
The driver of the MEMU, who leaped out of the engine car moments before the crash, has been admitted to the Rajiv Gandhi Government General Hospital in Chennai. His condition is said to be critical.
People from the nearby Killkandigai village and security personnel from a private cement factory rushed to help, jolted by the sound of the collision. All-night rescue efforts were carried out by Police teams and personnel of the Fire and Rescue Service, the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF), the Railway Protection Force (RPF) and the National Disaster Management.
Additional Divisional Railway Manager John Thomas told The Hindu that bodies of four victims had been pulled out of the wreckage when his team arrived. “Heavy rain in the area made things difficult for the rescue teams,” he said.
At first light on Wednesday morning, repair work on the damaged coaches, cement sleepers and electric cables commenced in full swing, after the accident spot was cordoned off.
Three relief trains (two from Chennai and one from Jolarpettai) equipped with required railway personnel began work at dawn.
Union Railway Minister Dinesh Trivedi visited the accident spot on Wednesday afternoon with senior railway officials. Earlier in the day, he met with the injured at the Rajiv Gandhi Government General Hospital Chennai and the Government General Hospital at Arakkonam.
Disrupted train services are expected to be resumed by Wednesday evening, railway officials said.
The injured passengers are "out of danger," IG North Zone Shailendra Babu said.
Southern Railway General Manager Deepak Krishan said the MEMU driver had apparently ignored the signal and speed restrictions.
The Arakkonam-Katpadi passenger was waiting for the signal. Being an automatic signalling territory, trains move one after another in this section, he said.
“Normally the previous signal would be danger (red). But apparently the MEMU train driver has not adhered to the signal,” he said.
Officials said the last coach of the stationary passenger train bore the brunt under the impact of the collision.
The impact of the collision could be gauged from the heap of mangled metal and derailed bogies which the rescue workers are trying to clear.
Passengers’ bags and other belongings and metal parts of the train were seen strewn around the site which became slushy because of heavy overnight rains.
The accident disrupted running of several trains to Coimbatore and Bangalore in the Chennai-Katpadi section and both the up and down track.
Tamil Nadu Health Minister Dr. V.S. Vijay visited the accident spot on Tuesday night along with district officials and reviewed the relief measures.
Village wakes up to a big bang
Chitheri, the sleepy village in Tamil Nadu’s Vellore district, woke up to the sound of a big bang caused by collision of two trains here with locals initially mistaking it to a ‘bomb blast’
“We all first thought it was a bomb blast. The sound was so deafening. But later we realised that it was a train accident.
When I reached the spot, it was dark and smoke had engulfed the area,” Mr. Chidambaram, a local resident, who was among the first to reach the spot, said.
For daily commuters who travel by the two trains, the accident turned out to be shocking experience last night as none would have expected that a routine halt at a signal could shatter their return home and land them in hospital.
The guard of the stationary train and a station master of nearby Wallajabad, who was on his way to work, were among those killed.
Both the trains were packed with commuters who travel to Chennai and Katpadi daily for work and vice-versa. Tiffin boxes of the passengers were also strewn around in the area.
Moving scenes were witnessed at the Arakkonam Government Hospital where several of the injured had been admitted as anxious relatives thronged looking for their dear ones.
The driver of the MEMU train was among those injured and was not in a condition to narrate how the mishap took place.
Mr. Ramamurthy (49), an employee of a private firm in Ambattur on Chennai outskirts, who was travelling in the MEMU along with his niece, recounted the tense moments.
“I heard a loud noise but did not know what happened. There was no light and there was smoke all around. First we though it was a bomb blast,” he said at the Government Hospital.
Similar was the experience of Shanthi of Manavaram and her two sons, daily wagers who commute by the train to Chennai. “I heard the sound and in a flash I found myself lying on the track. Then co-passengers helped me,” she said.
The Railways have made many helpline numbers operational to help the families of the victims. The numbers are 09244919572, 044-25357398, 044-25380710, 044-25355793, 044-25353438 and 044-25352639.