Indian train accident: Minister says signal error was the cause

  • Saudik Biswas in Delhi & Adam Durbin in London
  • BBC News

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India’s railway minister has suggested that a signal glitch that led to the Odisha train disaster could lead to a “change to electronic interlocking”.

Ashwini Vaishnav later said that the cause and culprits of the three train accidents in eastern India had been identified, but no details.

A report on India’s worst train accident this century is due to be released later.

Meanwhile, officials said the death toll has been reduced to 275 after some bodies were counted twice.

Of the 1,175 injured who were taken to hospital, 793 have been discharged. Some families are still searching for their loved ones.

During the accident, a passenger train collided with a stationary freight train and derailed after being misdirected into a loop track on the side of the main line.

The derailed coaches hit the rear coaches of the second passenger train traveling in the opposite direction.

At a press conference on Sunday, Jaya Verma Sinha of the Indian Railway Board said the two passenger trains approached the Balasore district station within seconds of each other at the exact speed of 130 km (81 mph) under a green signal – indicating it was safe.

Passenger trains are supposed to pass each other on the main lines, but the Coromandel Express collided with a freight train loaded with iron ore on the loop line, causing the engine and some coaches to be hoisted on top of the heavy freight wagons. .

He told reporters that the passenger train took the full impact of the collision and the freight train was not derailed, or moved.

The Howrah Superfast Express almost passed in the opposite direction, but its two rear coaches collided with the derailed Coromandel Express.

Ms Verma Sinha said there was “no problem with the electronic interlock system” and investigations pointed to “some sort of signal interference” rather than a failure.

“Whether it is manual, whether it is accidental, weather-related, wear and tear, maintenance failure will emerge after investigation,” he added.

An electronic interlock system in railway signaling ensures safe movement of trains on the track by assigning tracks to each train in a specific area.

Infrastructure expert Partha Mukhopadhyay told the BBC that green signals could not be displayed on the main line if the track was built for the loop.

“Signal interlocking has failed and a failure of this scale is quite unprecedented,” said Mr Mukhopadhyay of the Delhi-based Center for Policy Research.

On Saturday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the accident site and vowed that whoever was responsible would be “severely punished”.

Around 2,000 people are thought to have traveled on two passenger trains, the Coromandel Express traveling between Kolkata (formerly Calcutta) and Chennai (formerly Madras) and the Howrah Superfast Express traveling from Yesvantpur to Howrah. Friday around 19:00 (13:30 GMT)

Odisha state official Pradeep Jena told the BBC that at least 187 bodies had not been identified and that authorities were uploading pictures of the victims on government websites and would carry out DNA tests if necessary.

Rescue operations were completed on Saturday and efforts were underway to clear the wreckage and resume train services, officials said.

India has one of the largest rail networks in the world, used by millions of commuters daily, but much of the railway infrastructure needs to be improved.

Trains in India are very crowded at this time of the year, with the number of people traveling during school holidays increasing.

The country’s worst train disaster was in 1981 when a cyclone in Bihar state swept a crowded passenger train off the tracks and into a river, killing around 800 people.

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