PTI reporter Justin Rao was on board the Nagpur-Mumbai Duronto express when it derailed. The following is his account of the harrowing experience that passengers faced.
An unexpected shudder and a massive jolt accompanied by a screeching sound woke me up from my early morning slumber on a lower berth in the air-conditioned coach. The next thing I knew I was on the floor of the compartment. Luggage was strewn around and some of my co- passengers were shouting. All of us could feel the train sliding unnaturally, as if taking a forced detour.
I clutched the lower end of the seat with one hand and kept the other on the window pane waiting for the coach to stop its slide.
When it did, my dazed fellow passengers and I gingerly found our feet and looked out the window of our A2 two-tier coach. What we saw confirmed our worst fears — the Nagpur- Mumbai Duronto Express No. 12290 had jumped off the tracks.
I don’t remember what passed through my mind during those 10 seconds, but I do remember thinking I should call my parents if I make it alive.
My mobile phone was running out of charge. But the call to my father, a former PTI journalist, did go through minutes after my wayward coach came to a grinding halt. I told my father to immediately inform my bureau chief in Mumbai so that he could break the news.
From the window, I saw one coach lying askew on my right and another to the left. We knew something bad had happened, but nobody knew what and how. There were babies crying and shocked passengers were frantically trying to make phone calls.
Most of the passengers on the prestigious superfast, full air conditioned train must have been asleep when the train derailed between Vasind and Asangaon stations, a little after 6.30 a.m. At that point we were barely 65 kilometers and 90 minutes from our destination, the Chatrapati Shivaji Terminus in Mumbai.
The 18-coach train, with its distinctive green and yellow livery, had left my hometown Nagpur, where I had been on a weeklong vacation to visit my parents, at 8.40 p.m. on Monday.
The journey with only two stops in Bhusaval and Igatpuri had been uneventful. Passengers had their dinner, joked, chatted and played cards as attendants brought white bed sheets and blankets for the night.
A spate of train derailments, one of which left 23 people dead on August 19, was far from our minds as we made our beds and went to sleep for the overnight journey. Most of us woke up only when we felt the massive shaking and jolt that lasted about 5-10 seconds.
We were lucky that the derailment did not cause any fatalities or major injuries.
It was raining heavily but most of us in A2 decided to exit immediately. It was only when we got out that we realised the gravity of the situation.
Six bogies and the engine had derailed. Those trapped in washrooms had to be rescued by breaking the glass windows. The impact on the first four coaches from the engine was severe. They were lying horizontal on the tracks. One end of our coach had hit a massive rock, which ensured it didn’t skid any further. There were mangled train parts strewn everywhere.
There was water everywhere outside, adding an eerie beauty to the lush green landscape of the Kasara Ghat.
Since the location was isolated, we were told by officials that the only way to reach for help was to follow the track to the nearest station in Vashim. Many people started walking on the tracks, some holding babies in one hand and dragging suitcases in the other, all the while getting drenched in torrential rain.
The cause of the accident is not clear.
Central Railways spokesman Sunil Udasi said a landslide triggered by heavy rains caused the derailment, but a disaster was averted by the alert driver who applied emergency brakes in time. Another official, however, said a portion of the tracks was washed away by the rains.
It took nearly two hours for the rescue train to arrive, by which time a rescue team and railway officials had already reached the spot.
While reading reports of the recent train derailments I had wondered how the passengers must have felt. It never occurred to me that I would in the same situation a few days later.