One of the positive legacies bequeathed to India by the Raj (as the British rule there was known) was the network of railways which extended into every comer of the vast sub-continent. On June 6 1981 a typically crowded passenger train was travelling through the northeast Indian state of Bihar, some 400 km (250 mi) from Calcutta. Around 1,000 passengers had squeezed into the train’s nine coaches. As the train was crossing the Baghmati River outside the town of Mansi, the rear seven coaches came off the rails and plunged into the water below.
It was the beginning of the monsoon season in India, so not only was the river swollen to well above its normal levels but the railway tracks were also wet and slippery. Hundreds of people were swept away and drowned in the swirling, muddy waters. It took the rescue services hours to arrive at the scene of the accident, and their work was hampered by the treacherous conditions of the monsoon rains. It is unlikely, however, that there were many people who could have been saved.
The reason for one of India’s worst rail accidents is still disputed. Some sources maintain that it was caused by the atrocious weather conditions and that the train was struck either by a cyclone or a flash flood. However, a persistent story has it that the driver, a devout Hindu, braked hard on seeing a cow ahead about to cross the tracks. Cows are sacred animals in the Hindu religion and the driver would not have wanted to harm it. When the brakes were applied, the wheels failed to grip on the wet rails and so the carriages came off the tracks.
When was the Bihar Train Accident: June 6 1981
Where was the Bihar Train Accident: Mansi, Bihar, India
What was the Bihar Train Accident death toll: The official death toll was given as 268, but over 300 passengers were never accounted for. Some estimates put the fatalities as high as 800.
You should know: Predominantly agricultural but with a growing service sector, Bihar remains one of the poorest and most heavily populated states in India.