Great train robbery 2.0: Thieves plunder $860K from moving carriage in India

Indian police personnel stand guard alongside the Salem-Chennai Express train, which was robbed while in transit, at Egmore Railway station in Chennai on August 9, 2016. © Arun Sankar
Wild West-style train robbers stole some $860,000 (Indian rupees 5.78 crore) worth of old currency from under the nose of 15 policemen in India, cutting open the roof of a train mail carriage where the cash was being transported.

The train left the Southern Indian city of Salem at 9pm on Monday night and reached the coastal city of Chennai around 4pm on Tuesday, having traveled some 350km. The money was being transported to the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) branch in Chennai for disposal as it was old and soiled, although still valid.

The load was being escorted by 15 armed policemen who were seated in the next compartment.

The robbery apparently occurred somewhere along the way, but was only discovered hours after the train had arrived at its destination. When bank officials opened the mail van to collect the load, they found some of the boxes torn apart and banknotes strewn around the carriage, as well as a human-sized hole in the roof.

The incident came to light when RBI officials opened the coach on its arrival [in Chennai] and found the currency notes lying scattered inside,”  V. Ramasubramani, Railway Police Inspector General, told the , as quoted by New Indian Express. He said that police stations from Salem to Chennai have been alerted and the search for the assailants is currently underway.  

Some local news outlets also reported that blood marks were found inside the compartment, indicating one of the robbers may have been injured in the raid.

Local media claim it's still not clear how the robbers entered the mail carriage – either they used the hole in the roof to enter, or were hiding inside and cut the hole to escape with the money. Police suspect six to eight thieves took part in the heist, AFP reports, citing sources.

We are inquiring with the train guard and the police personnel if they heard any unusual noises on the roof,” the news agency quoted Police Superintendent P. Vijayakumar as saying.

It’s also unclear how the robbers could have drilled the hole in the carriage roof, as almost all the tracks along the route had been electrified with cables stretching right above the carriages.

Citing police sources, local media report the theft took place between the towns of Aathur and Vridhachalam, as this 80km-long leg of the route has not yet been electrified. The train also had 12 scheduled stops on its way and police at all those railway stations have been ordered to take part in the investigation. Police also plan to analyze surveillance camera footage recorded at both Salem and Chennai, The Hindu .

The train has for now been stationed at Egmore railway station yard, just outside Chennai. Police are currently questioning bank employees, both current and former, as well as workers who carried the bags into the compartment, guards who traveled with the load and railway employees.

The coach had nearly 200 boxes in total packed with used currency notes amounting to $51 million (Rs 342 crore). The cash, collected from five banks in Salem, was being to the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) branch in Chennai for disposal, as it is standard practice to exchange old used banknotes in the RBI for new fresh ones.