Arvind Kumar, the driver of the Diesel Multiple Unit (DMU) train that crushed at least 60 people to death in Amritsar on Friday, 19 October, has told the Railway authorities in a statement that he applied the emergency brakes in an attempt to stop the train, but then sped off after people started attacking the train with stones, reported The Indian Express.
"“Suddenly I saw a crowd of people near the track. I constantly sounded the horn as I immediately applied the emergency brake. Despite applying emergency brake, some people were run over by the train. The train was almost coming to a halt when a very large crowd started attacking the train by throwing stones. Considering the safety of my passengers, I proceeded with the train.”" - Arvind Kumar, train driver, as quoted by The Indian Express
Driver Detained by Punjab Police
The Punjab and Railway Police on Saturday, 20 October, had detained and questioned the driver.
Punjab Police officials said that the DMU driver had been detained at the Ludhiana railway station and was being questioned regarding the incident that took place on Friday night at the Jora Phatak near Dhobi Ghat within Amritsar city.
Sources said that the driver claimed that he was given a green signal and an all clear. He claimed that he had no idea that hundreds of people were standing on the tracks when the train crossed the area.
No action has so far been initiated against the organisers, who are leaders of the ruling Congress in Punjab, of the Dussehra event. Police sources said that the organisers had since gone underground.
Railway Linemen Also Being Questioned
Railway officials were also gathering information from the railway linemen posted along the tracks near the Jora Phatak area, who failed to inform the DMU driver of the presence of over 700 people on the railway tracks.
As the Ravana and other effigies went up in flames with the deafening noise of bursting fire crackers, the people standing on the live railway tracks did not realise that a speeding train was approaching.
Nearly 150 people, most of whom were watching the burning of effigies or were recording the event on their mobile phones, were mowed down by the train, with 61 confirmed dead at this time.
The disaster was over in 10-15 seconds, people at the spot said.
Union Minister of State for Railways Manoj Sinha visited the site of the accident late on Friday night. He said that the incident was being probed and that the tragedy was unfortunate.
However, Sinha has ruled out any punitive action against the driver of the train stating the incident wasn’t a “railway accident” but trespassing on the tracks.
Railway authorities in Amritsar and in New Delhi defended themselves saying that they had not been informed about the Dussehra event at that spot and the local police did not prevent the people from coming on the live and busy railway tracks.
Railways Not Intimated About Event: Railway Board Chairman
The Railways was not intimated about the Dussehra event, Railway Board Chairman Ashwani Lohani said in a statement.
He said that the accident occurred at a stretch between two stations – Amritsar and Manawala – and not at a level crossing.
"“At midsections, trains run at their assigned speed and people are not expected to be on the tracks. At midsections, there is no railway staff posted. We have staff at level crossings whose job is to regulate traffic.”" - Ashwani Lohani, Railway Board Chairman
He said that the gateman was 400 metres away at a level crossing and added that if the driver had applied emergency brakes, there could have been a bigger tragedy.
Lohani also said that the train was running at its assigned speed and initial reports suggest that the driver applied brakes and the train slowed down.
"There was no information and no permission sought from us. The event took place at a place adjoining the railway land in private property," he said.
Refusing to assign any blame, Lohani, who visited the spot at midnight, said that the national transporter has been carrying out campaigns exhorting people not to trespass. "We will take that forward," he said.
(With inputs from PTI and IANS)
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