With 43 passengers on board, the Delhi-Tanakpur Purnagiri Jan Shatabdi Special hurtled in reverse for about 20km and crossed two stations at high speed until a mound of sand and boulders hurriedly piled on the tracks finally stopped it. The loco pilot, assistant pilot and guard were suspended on Thursday.
The train was close to its destination, Tanakpur, on Wednesday around 4pm when an animal strayed onto the tracks. “The engine brakes failed after the train hit cattle,” Izzatnagar railway division PRO Rajendra Singh said. The loco pilot appears to have hit the brakes hard, because of which the air pressure vacuum pipe burst. “The driver may have lost control of the engine and the train started moving backwards,” a railways official said.
In the train compartments, there was panic. “Initially, we thought the train was going back to change tracks. But it gathered speed, and we realised something was wrong,” said Dev Singh, a TTE on board the train at the time. In video clips that went viral, the train can be seen running in the opposite direction as curious onlookers scream that there are passengers inside. “We were surrounded by passengers who wanted answers, but even we didn’t know what was happening … Those were the most frantic moments of my life,” said Lakshman Singh, the other TTE on board.
Tanakpur, at an elevation of 259m, is higher than the other stations.
“The loco pilot could not stop the train as it started rolling backwards. He informed the control room immediately and all nearby stations were alerted. Our team went to several crossings, and placed sand and boulders on the tracks,” the railways official said.