The International Steam Pages

Tragic Accident with the Palace on Wheels

The following is taken from the Times of India on-line edition of 5th October 2007:

NEW DELHI: In a tragic aftermath to Tuesday’s accident, senior locomotive inspector Richhpal Singh and engine driver Raghuvir Singh died on Thursday morning in Safdarjung Hospital. The two, who were driving the Palace on Wheels, succumbed to burn injuries. 

Both of them employees of Northern Railway, Richhpal and Raghuvir of were among the five crew members of the ill-fated steam engine of the Palace on Wheels. The driver’s cabin of the locomotive was ripped apart by a blast shortly after the train started out of the Safdarjung station on Wednesday evening. 

"They had years of experience and never compromised with the safety of the passengers," said a senior divisional officer of Delhi railway division. "They lived up to their reputation on the fateful Wednesday night but lost their lives in the process." 

What has amazed rail officials is the manner in which the driver and his crew managed to bring the train to a complete halt at the Brar Square station, even after sustaining grievous injuries. "They are our heroes. They saved a much bigger disaster from happening," said a Northern Railways spokesperson. While the three other injured crew members are reported to be out of danger, all the passengers were sent on the onward journey to Jaipur after a delay of two hours. 

Said Dr R P Narayan, senior plastic surgeon and HOD, Burn Ward, Safdarjung Hospital: "Both of the patients were brought in with severe injuries. They had been transferred from the Army command hospital. Richhpal had 98% burn injuries and Raghuvir 60% burn injuries. While Richhpal died late evening, Raghuvir succumbed to his injuries early morning." 

"According to initial inquiries, the possible cause for the blast seems to be a burst in the boiler tube of the engine," added the Northern Railways spokesperson. 

Meanwhile, Northern Railway, faced with criticism from certain quarters for trying to hush up the magnitude of the accident, has ordered a high level enquiry into the incident. "Commissioner of Railway Safety of Northern Circle, Bhupinder Singh, will hold a statutory inquiry into the incident. The inquiry will be held on October 8 and 9 at 11 am in the office of the divisional railway manager’s office, Delhi," said Rajeev Saxena, chief PRO, Northern Railways. 

Railways claimed that there was no attempt to cover up the incident. "It was quite late in the night that we finally understood the magnitude of the whole event," said a senior official. 

However, friends and relatives of the deceased at the Safdarjung hospital said that the railway authorities were extremely slow to react to the situation and take appropriate measures."Raghuvir was brought in a PCR van. The railways did not bother to provide an ambulance for him, they were busy trying to get the Palace on Wheels moving again," said one of their friends. 

Rob Dickinson