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Page last updated at 12:31 GMT, Wednesday, 3 June 2009 13:31 UK

Driver 'dozes off' on India train

By Amarnath Tewary in Patna

A train near Allahabad, India (file photo)
Millions of passengers travel by trains in India daily

A passenger train in the Indian state of Bihar zoomed past two railway stations - after the driver apparently fell asleep at the controls.

Those on board say the driver stopped only after some of the panic-stricken passengers managed to wake him up.

Following protests by angry passengers, he then reversed the train to return to the stations he had missed.

The driver and the guard of the train have been suspended and an inquiry has been ordered, a railway official said.

'Out of proportion'

The incident is alleged to have occurred after the Jogbani-Katihar express left Forbesganj railway station in Bihar on Monday.

We sounded the alarm and began to shout - only then did the driver wake up
Passenger Vivek Thakur

It zoomed past its first scheduled halt at Dholbazza, railway officials said.

Passengers then panicked when the train also missed its next stop of Pothia railway station in Kishanganj.

When some of the passengers managed to reach the engine, they apparently found the driver snoring away.

"We sounded the alarm and began to shout - only then did the driver wake up," passenger Vivek Thakur was quoted by a local newspaper as saying.

The driver then reversed to stations he had missed.

"We have been informed that the driver concerned drove past some local stations in a state of sleep. These are lapses which cannot be tolerated at any cost," Babulal Gaekwad, the divisional railway manager of the North-east Frontier Railway told the BBC.

Passengers waiting to board the train at the two railway stations had a miraculous escape as some of them were standing close to the tracks to get into the crammed train compartments. Some even sustained minor bruises.

A senior railway official, Gopal Kumar, told the BBC that the driver and the guard of the train had been suspended and an inquiry had been ordered.

Mr Kumar admitted that the train had missed stops and had to retrace its route, but described it as "a small incident blown out of proportion".

"Let the inquiry be completed and only then will we be able to say whether the driver fell asleep or not."

Protests

Railway officials at the station initially thought the authorities might have decided to reschedule the train stops under the new railways minister and some angry passengers began to protest.

On Monday, angry villagers set fire to two trains in Bihar and ransacked a railway station in protest at a decision not to stop some trains at remote stations. The decision was later reversed.

State-owned Indian railways is an immense network connecting every corner of the vast country.

One of the largest and busiest rail networks in the world, it operates 9,000 passenger trains and carries 18 million passengers every day.



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