New Delhi/Gorakhpur, April 26 (IANS) Railway Board Chairman Ashwahi Lohani on Thursday said that the Indian Railways is committed to “eliminate unmanned level crossings” after 13 school children were killed and six seriously injured when a train hit their van at an unmanned railway crossing in Uttar Pradesh’s Kushinagar.
“We are trying to eliminate unmanned level crossings,” Lohani told reporters while addressing a press conference here in New Delhi.
He said that according to the latest reports, 13 school students died in a collision between a school van and train in Kushinagar.
Lohani’s remarks came after 13 children died when the school van in which they were travelling was hit by the Gorakhpur-Siwan passenger train around 7.10 a.m.
The incident took place at the Dudhi Behpurva gate when the children were headed to the Divine Public School. The injured were rushed to Pandrauna Hospital which is 30 km from the accident site.
Asking the commuters to be careful while crossing the unmanned level crossings, Lohani said, “Basically, people have to be careful while crossing rail tracks, there is no substitute for that. We cannot take any step that is fool-proof.”
Railways spokesperson Ved Prakash told IANS that the children died on the spot as the Siwan-Gorakhpur passenger train crashed into the van at the crossing, 100 km from Gorakhpur.
According to railway ministry officials, the train which was on its way to Gorakhpur from Siwan, dragged the school van for over 100 meters before coming to a halt.
Railway Ministry officials said that it was an unmanned level crossing with a Gate Mitra (rail volunteer) deployed there.
“It was an unmanned level crossing gate at Behpurva, with Gate Mitra Arvind Kumar Bharti deployed there. He tried to stop the van but the unfortunate incident happened at unmanned gate 45 near Dudhi station in Banaras division,” a railway ministry official said requesting anonymity.
A North Eastern (NE) Railway official said that at least 25 people, mostly children below the age of 10 years were travelling in the van when the incident occurred.
President Ram Nath Kovind, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Railway Minister Piyush Goyal expressed their grief over the accident. The Railway Minister announced an ex-gratia of Rs two lakh each to the kin of the victims, Rs one lakh to those who were critically injured and Rs 50,000 to those with minor injuries.
“I am deeply anguished and pained by the loss of lives of young school children at an unmanned level crossing in Kushinagar. My thoughts are with families of the deceased and I pray for the early recovery of the injured,” Goyal said in a statement.
Goyal also said that he had ordered a senior-level enquiry into the incident.
“We stand committed to take all possible steps to avoid such accidents in future,” the Railway Minister said.
An accident relief medical train from Gorakhpur was dispatched to the site, the NE official said. Several senior officials have also rushed to the accident site.
Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, who visited the accident site and the hospital to meet the injured children directed the Divisional Commissioner of Gorakhpur to conduct a probe into the incident. He also announced an ex gratia of Rs two lakh each to the families of the deceased.
After meeting the injured at the hospital, he said, “I am told that the van driver was wearing earphones while driving… this is a case of pure negligence.”
“An inquiry has been ordered and based on the investigation, the guilty will face the most severe punishment,” he said.
He also said that he had ordered the officials to register a case immediately over the incident.
He said that 13 students have died while four students and the van driver are critically injured. “They have been admitted to BRD Medical College in Gorakhpur. An inquiry will be conducted to nab those responsible. I spoke to Railway Minister also about ways to man the unmanned railway crossings.”
Adityanath’s office also instructed the district authorities to undertake rescue and relief operations immediately.