Amritsar train accident: ‘At a busy crossing, gateman cannot look beyond the gates’

Jaura Phatak has electric gates. “Often we have to stop midway as people are rushing to cross even as the gates are closing. Our responsibility is to close the gates before the train comes, otherwise we would face departmental action,” gatemen Dwarka Dass said.

As many as 130 trains cross Jaura railway crossing in 24 hours. Three gatemen take turns to man the gates, close to which a train ran over and killed 59 Dussehra revellers on Friday evening.

On Tuesday, four days after the incident, gateman Dwarka Dass is standing in for Amit Singh, who was on duty at Jaura crossing on Dussehra day.

“Amit Singh had to run away from the spot. He saved his life. A crowd attacked the gateman’s room and broke windows,” said Dwarka Dass.

Amit Singh’s father was also gateman at the same crossing and his home is only 100 metres from the gate. He had got the job after the death of his father on compassionate grounds. The house is now locked. He stayed with his brother and his wife. Neighbours said they had not seen Amit or other family members since the day of the accident

“We don’t know where Amit is. I was not on duty that day, but it would have been impossible for Amit to keep a tab on people crowding the tracks 400 metre from the gates. His focus must have been on closing and opening the gates as more people cross in the evening. Then there is a curve on the tracks that cuts the view of the accident site. It was also dark and hence Amit must not have been in a position to see the crowd when the train came.”

Dass said Jaura Phatak is a busy crossing. “Around 130 trains pass from here in 24 hours. We often have arguments with people who want to cross the tracks even with closed gates. We even have a siren installed here. But actually the siren adds to our problems because people speed up their vehicles as soon as they hear it. Instead of taking it as warning to stop, they take it as a signal that the gates will close soon and everyone wants to cross before that.”

Jaura Phatak has electric gates. “Often we have to stop midway as people are rushing to cross even as the gates are closing. Our responsibility is to close the gates before the train comes, otherwise we would face departmental action,” Dass said.

In case the gateman needs to communicate something urgently to the control room, he would use the landline or personal mobile, Dass said.

“It happens mostly when we have some issues at the crossing. At a busy gate like Jaura crossing, you cannot expect the gateman to look beyond the gates,” Dass said.

The 500-metre stretch from the Jaura railway crossing to the spot of the train tragedy is now guarded by men from the Punjab Police, the Government Railway Police and the Railway Protection Force on both sides of the track. No pedestrian is allowed to cross the tracks. Security personnel are also there to ensure that protesters do not attempt to disrupt rail traffic.

“There are many issues due to which security has been deployed on this stretch now. We had no information about any function on Dussehra day. Otherwise, we would had sent our men there. We had no intimation about the function from Amritsar police or any other agency,” said Balbir Singh, Station House Officer, GRP, Amritsar railway station.

The GRP has also formed a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to probe the accident and Balbir Singh is part of the four-member team headed by AIG Dalbir Singh Rana. Amritsar police have already accepted that it had given permission for the event and even deployed its security for the purpose. Organiser Sourab Mithu Madan had informed Amritsar police that around 20,000 people will gather at Dhobi Ghat, adjacent to the railways track separated by a wall.

SHO Balbir Singh said, “Our main focus stays on the railway station and inside the moving train. There are issues of security at railway stations. Often there are fights and thefts inside the train. We are supposed to react to such situations. The RPF remains deployed inside moving trains for security of passengers. We turn focus to railways tracks only when someone asks us. Otherwise there is no need to man the track and it is practically not possible too.”

He added: “Investigation is at an initial state and so far none including gateman, driver and organiser has been called for investigation.”

The DMU involved in the accident is stationed at Attari Railways station and so far no investigating agency has inspected it as part of the probe.

Also, no medical examination was conducted of driver Arvind Kumar after the accident. “We will call anyone wanted for the investigation whenever needed. No one has been called because investigation at the initial stage,” said the SHO.

Ranjit Kumar, a fruit seller near the track, said, “The heavy security has affected my business because now even pedestrians are not allowed to cross the track.”

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