On Dussehra, a huge crowd of Dussehra revelers was watching a Ravan effigy go up in flames amid exploding firecrackers at Jora Phatak in Amritsar. Many of them spilled on to the nearby elevated railway tracks for a better view before the Jalandhar-Amritsar DMU passenger train heading to Hoshiarpur came hurtling down the same tracks at 7 p.m. Getting on to the tracks proved fatal as more than 60 Dussehra revelers were crushed to death on the tracks.
Railways came under scrutiny following the incident as scores of people staged a sit-in on railway tracks demanding action against officials including the loco pilot. They alleged that the loco pilot did not stop the speeding train to avoid the mayhem.
TNIE spoke to SP Sahu, an electric loco pilot (Rajdhani/ Shatabdi) who is also General Secretary of East Central Railway Employees Union (ECREU) and asked the following questions to find out how and when a loco pilot stops the train and why it could not be in this instance.
When does a loco pilot apply brakes?
Loco pilot applies brakes to control or to reduce speed based on warnings or by watching signals.
When are the emergency brakes applied?
Emergency brakes are applied when the train needs to be stopped at once. Such conditions include loco pilot finding the tracks being uprooted or spotting any other fault with the tracks.
How much distance does a train cover when emergency brake is applied?
It depends on the length of the train. If the emergency brake is applied to a 24-coach train running at the speed of 100km/hr, it covers 700-900 metres before coming to a halt. In a fully-loaded goods train, it takes 1100-1300 metres.
The Amritsar train would have needed to cover at least 600 metres before stopping after the loco pilot applied the brake (as it was a small diesel-propelled train). It works the same way when someone pulls the emergency chain inside the train.
In case of any sudden obstruction, why don't the loco pilots stop the train?
Loco drivers don’t hit or crush someone intentionally. It happens because they don’t get enough braking distance. It also depends on visibility as in daytime there is better visibility than at night. While visibility is around 1000-1200 metres during the day, it gets reduced to only 100-200 metres during night depending on the engine headlight.
Will application of emergency brake result in the derailing of a train?
This is a common myth that a train might derail when the emergency brake is applied. A train derails only when there is a fault with the wheels or with the railway track or wagon or some other technical fault.
Could the loco pilot have prevented the Amritsar train accident?
Vivek Kumar, Divisional Railway Manager, Ferozpur, said the railways had already questioned the loco pilot and found that there was no lapse on his part. He said the train was travelling at a speed of 91 km/hr, but after spotting the crowd on the track, he could only slow it down to 68 km/hr.
The above explanation clarifies why he could not have averted the accident.