THE ghastly accident near Balasore in Odisha state on June 3 involving two express passenger trains and a freight train appears to have acted as a brutal reality check for Indian Railways (IR) over the safety of its 186-year-old railway network.
In what is India’s worst rail accident for two decades, 275 passengers are reported to have been killed and over 1000 injured when the Coromandel Express train was diverted into a passing loop and ran into the rear of a stationary iron-ore freight train.
This caused several coaches to derail, coming to rest on the adjacent main line where within minutes they were struck by a Yashwantpur - Howrah express train travelling in the opposite direction.
“The root cause of the train accident has been identified and persons responsible for it have also been identified,” says railways minister, Mr Ashwani Vaishnaw, who hinted at the possibility of a signalling issue as well as “criminal tampering.”
At a press conference on June 4, Ms Jaya Varma Sinha IR board member for operations and business development, said both passenger trains had approached Balasore under green signals at 128km/h, just below the line speed of 130km/h. Varma Sinha said there was “no issue with the electronic interlocking system. Whether it was manual, whether it was incidental, whether it was weather-related, whether it was because of wear and tear, whether it was a maintenance failure, all that will come out after the inquiry.”
“The majority of routes are now over-saturated,” adds former IR official, Mr Sudhanshu Mani. “And because of the stress of running more and more trains on already congested tracks, the time available for conducting routine maintenance activity has been shrinking. This problem needs to be urgently addressed.”