A gang of criminals took away Rs 5.8 crore from Salem-Chennai Express after cutting through the roof of a sealed mail coach. A police team supposed to guard the cash was travelling in a neighbouring coach, unaware of the heist, which took place in the intervening night of Monday-Tuesday.

The incident came to light after the express train from Salem arrived here this morning and some of the more than 200 boxes carrying the cash and transported through three cargo coaches of the train were found tampered with.

The RBI had booked the coach to transport soiled currencies worth Rs 342 crore in 226 boxes. Four of them were found to have been prised open. RPF and GRP are clueless about the gang and how they carried out the operation. Investigators are looking at the possibility of an insider hand.

The 19-coach train left Salem at 9pm on Monday night, when the mail van was second after the engine. At Virudhachalam, the engine changed position and the mail van became the last coach of the formation. The train reached Chennai at 4am on Tuesday. It was then sent to the yard and later to the Egmore station where the parcel office is located.

At 11am, when RBI officials came to collect the cash, they found sunlight streaming in through a 2x2ft opening on the roof. The square piece of metal cut off the roof was on the coach floor. Cash was littered on the floor and four boxes were open. One was emptied out, while another was half empty. It was probably as much as they could carry,” said an investigator.

The opening the gang made was just enough for a person to slip through. A source in RBI said the bank transports cash at least once a week from southern parts of the state to Chennai. Indian Overseas Bank (IOB), one of the three banks whose soiled notes were being transported, said these notes were not usable.

“Whoever has got the currency notes cannot make use of them unless he tries palming it off, sandwiched between genuine notes,” the IOB official said.

RPF has registered a case while GRP is assisting in the probe. Senior railway officials suspect a person who is aware of the loading pattern and train route helped the gang plan the robbery.

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