2016 Kanpur train-accident: Not conspiracy, corrosion blamed for 152 deaths
Four years ago, the Indore-Patna Express derailed near Kanpur, killing 152 passengers. The accident, one of the worst to hit Indian Railways, was suggested to be a result of a terrorist conspiracy, even by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Later, the National Investigation Agency took over the probe. While NIA is yet to file a charge-sheet, another body blamed welding and corrosion for the mishap.
On November 20, 2016, 14 coaches of the train derailed near the Uttar Pradesh city, making it the deadliest train mishap of the last 17 years. As questions were cast on safety inside trains, the then Railways Minister Suresh Prabhu spoke about "possible criminal interference by outsiders." He wrote to Rajnath Singh, Home Minister at the time, and eventually, the NIA stepped in.
Ironically, the accident was exploited for political mileage. Ahead of UP elections of 2017, PM Modi said at a rally in Gonda that the district borders Nepal. "There was a rail accident in Kanpur, hundreds of people were killed. Some people have been arrested...This was not an accident, it was a conspiracy. Where were the conspirators hiding? Across the border," he had said.
While the NIA probe is underway, the Commissioner of Railway Safety submitted a final report this June and blamed mechanical failure as "probable cause." CRS Eastern Circle PK Acharya concluded that welding made way for corrosion in one of the coaches. The faulty parts "fell off," and subsequently got "embedded" in the track. This, waylaid the train's path when it was speeding at 106 kmph.
The report said that two coaches "took off from the track," became a "high-speed projectile," and crashed on a third coach. All this happened within three seconds around 3:02 am. Details of the report, which were published in IE, said parts of S1 coach were corroded. "The head stock embedded in the track, causing intense obstruction to the movement of coaches," the report added.
The report went on, "S1, S2 coaches taking off from track and becoming projectile at high speed and (falling) on B-3 coach due to very high impact and buffing force resulted in very high casualties in these coaches." "The entire happening...from 2.58.01 hours to 2.58.02 (3 seconds)...indicates this was a sudden derailment and capsizing of coaches...not a gradual derailment of wheel climbing."
Unusually, the CRS report added a caveat saying its findings only hold ground "if sabotage is ruled out by NIA." Acharya, who retired in July 2018, said, "I said (in the report) that if the NIA finds out that it was a case of sabotage then anything could happen. I will not be able to say anything on the report as I have retired."
For the report, passengers' accounts were also taken. One Prakash Kumar Pandey, a B.Tech student at the time, told about a "heavy sound coming from S1 coach" after train crossed Jhansi. Meanwhile, the driver said that he witnessed the overhead equipment shaking after the train crossed Pukhrayan. The engine's brake pressure had dipped and he immediately applied emergency brakes, he said.
Notably, when Prabhu requested for an NIA probe, he referred to six train accidents to make his case. "Bihar Police unearthed a conspiracy to train some persons in the country to tamper with railway tracks to cause train derailments and (their) possible involvement in the accident near Kanpur," his letter read. Acharya also mentioned newspaper reports blaming Pakistan's ISI for the accident.