On the fateful morning of August 29, the two drivers of the Nagpur-Mumbai Duronto Express, which had jumped the rails, were stuck precariously inside the overturned engine but the duo showed nerves of steel during the crucial hours of the crisis.
Fifty-two-year-old Virendra Singh and assistant loco pilot Abhay Kumar Pal, 32, who were hailed as heroes after the accident, said it was years of practising yoga that helped them keep their cool in the tense moments.
“The moment we applied the emergency brakes, the engine was flung high in the air, bounced on the tracks before turning on its side. Without losing time, I picked up the walkie-talkie and cried – ‘Mileage! Mileage!’ (SOS term) to alert the control room,” Singh recalled.
Both the drivers had suffered minor injuries in the derailment caused by a landslide, but displayed alertness and presence of mind before the rescue team arrived.
“The engine had keeled over and we both were stuck inside it, virtually trapped, as the door below us was blocked by the ground while the one above us, was too high for us to reach. I then asked Abhay to climb on my shoulders and reach for the doors,” Singh told PTI.
After managing to move out of the train, Abhay put detonators on the tracks, a standard drill during an accident to alert any incoming trains, while Singh wriggled himself out of the driver’s cabin, Railways spokesperson Anil Saxena said.
Both drivers were recently awarded by the Railways at the Rail Bhavan here, for “performing like true railwaymen” and displaying “exemplary dedication to duty”, saving lives of hundreds of passengers.
“Despite being affected themselves by the accident, they gained composure and alerted the control room about the gravity of the situation leading to immediate switching off of the OHE (overhead electricity) supply of both the lines (Up and Down) by the control room, thereby avoiding a serious situation,” Saxena said.
Singh, who joined the Railways in 1988, said the situation was very tense but “we both were able to maintain calm and stay concentrated even though it was raining hard and the sight was very disturbing”.
“Years of practising yoga helped us stay focussed and hold our nerves. In hours of crisis, concentration is the key,” he said. Singh said his experience and training came in handy during the crisis.
Both drivers are employed with the Central Railway (CR) and stay in Mumbai. Abhay, who hails from Bihar, and joined services in the the national transporter in 2008, says, “When I saw that the track was hit by the landslide, I screamed aloud and we immediately responded.”
“Despite the sighting distance being very less due to sharp curvature and heavy rain on approach, they immediately applied the emergency brakes. Due to a quick response, impact of the locomotive hitting the mud was considerably reduced.
“Though the incident resulted in derailment of locomotive and nine coaches in the Igatpuri-Kalyan section, it did not result in injury to any of the passengers, as the speed was considerably reduced due to quick and prompt action by the staff,” reads the appreciation letter given to them by Railway Board Chairman Ashwani Lohani. The derailment had occurred at 6:36 am between Vasind and Asangaon stations in Maharashtra.