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Possible “human error” may have caused one of India’s most dread- ful train accidents in which at least 288 passengers died and 950 were injured. How- ever, investigators are not ruling out the possibility of deliberate human interven- tion too, causing the acci- dent. The accident resulted from a collision involving two passenger trains and a goods train at less than 200 metres away from the Bah- anaga Bazar railway station in Balasore district of Odis-ha, around 100 km from the border of West Bengal. The number of deaths is likely to rise. At least 3,000 passen- gers were travelling in the two trains.

According to a preliminary probe report accessed by The Sunday Guardian, which was also confirmed by two top Railway officials, at 6.55 PM on Friday, 2 June, 12841 Shalimar-Chennai Cen- tral Coromandel Express, instead of running on the main line entered the loop line where a freight train car- rying iron ores was parked.

Railway sources told The Sunday Guardian, on which track a train runs is pre- decided and fed into the train system, which can be changed or modified by the station in-charge. The driv- er has no control on which track a train would run. While shifting from the main line to a loop line, the speed of the train is reduced, but since Coromandel Express was running at a high speed, despite slowing down, it col- lided with the stationary goods train. Sources also say that investigators are not ruling out the possibility of a malfunctioning of the green signal, which thereby steered the train onto the loop line. If there was any deliberate human interven- tion with the signalling, is not yet known.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who visited the acci- dent site and a local hospi- tal where the injured were being treated said that the accident was being probed and whoever was found guilty, would not be spared. “It’s a painful incident. The government will not be able to bring them back, who lost their lives [in the accident], but the government is with their kin in this grief. This incident is very serious for the government. The govern- ment will leave no stones unturned for the treatment of those injured. In- structions have been given for every type of investigation and whoever is found guilty will not be spared,” PM Modi said during his visit to Fakir Mohan Hospital in Balasore. When the Coromandel Express crashed into the freight train on Friday, the locals, who were among the first re- sponders, equipped with ropes and ladders, pulled out many of the in- jured and the dead. The Railway has announced an inquiry which will be led by A.M. Chowdhary, Commis- sioner, Railway Safety, South East Circle. Numerous raw video foot- ages accessed by The Sunday Guard- ian that were shot within minutes of the collision, show the locals risking their lives and entering the mangled coaches to rescue the unconscious and dazed people and rushing them to the hospital.
The Coromandel Express leaves Howrah at 3.20 p.m. and reaches Chennai the next day at 16.50 p.m.

The 22-coach “superfast” Coro- mandel Express that runs at 110-115 km per hour, hit the goods train, as a result of which its engine and five bogies capsized, while 14 of the bo- gies got derailed. The five bogies


fell into the adjoining track and “in- fringed” on the track. Most of the deaths took place at this point of the accident. Only three bogies of Coro- mandel Express remained standing. Less than five minutes later, 12864, Bengaluru-Howrah Superfast Ex- press, which had a total of 22 bogies, and was coming from the opposite direction, hit the capsized bogies of the Coromandel Express, causing more deaths to the passengers who were stuck in the capsized coaches as well as casualty to the passengers it was carrying. Two coaches of the Bengaluru Howrah train capsized. The train leaves Bengaluru at 10.50 a.m. and reaches Howrah the next evening at 7.55 p.m. But like always it was running late. It was scheduled to reach Balasore at 3.50 p.m., but was late by three hours.

As per Railway rules, a capsized coach is one in which all of its wheels are off the ground and it is resting on its side, either on the ground or against an obstruction. A loop line is a railway track that diverts from the main line and rejoins it at a further distance. A handwritten prelimi- nary report signed by five officials accessed by The Sunday Guardian, too suggests that a “human error” led to this horrific accident. “After care- ful observations, we have come to the conclusion that the signal was given and taken off for up-main line for 12841 but this train entered into the loop line and dashed with a goods train which was on the up-loop line and derailed. In the meantime 12864 passed through on DW mainline and two coaches of it were capsized,” says

the report accessed by The Sunday Guardian. Railway officer Ananth Rupanagudi, who is posted in Chen- nai wrote on Twitter that none of the trains had the Kavach system, which is an anti-collision mechanism under which the brakes automatically get activated if another train is detected on the same line. Railway Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw, who was Dis- trict Magistrate of Balasore in 1999, visited the accident site on Saturday morning and announced an ex gratia of Rs 10 lakh to those who have died in the accident, Rs 2 lakh to those who have been grievously injured, while Rs 50,000 to those who have suffered minor injuries.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi too reached the accident site in the evening to take stock of the situation. Odisha Chief Minister announced a one day mourning in the state.

As per the spot inquiry report, the engine of train 12841 was found “mounted” over the goods train, suggesting the speed at which the train was moving. The report fur- ther found that the two rear-most coaches of train number 12864 were found toppled. The third rear coach of 12864 was found “South side” and damaged. The loop-line was found to be “partially corroded” and “par- tially fresh”. Significantly, the report says that on “down main line some number of sleeper and rail (tracks) were found damaged”. Sleepers are the concrete bars that hold the rail tracks on the ground. What caused this damage, and when it was caused or if it happened during the accident or before, will have to be ascertained

in the thorough probe. In August 1995, in a similar acci-dent, two trains collided with each other near Firozabad on the Delhi- Kanpur section killing 358 people.

A February 2020 CAG report, while comparing the train coaches manufactured by Linke Hofmann Busch (LHB) and that made by Inte- grated Coach Factory (ICF), that are used by Indian Railways, had found that ICF coaches had more number of collisions and derailments and that LHB coaches were safer than ICF coaches. Between 2014 and 2018, a total of 20 incidents of colli- sion, derailment had taken place in which 17 of them involved the ICF coaches that had led to the death of 371 people.

In the three incidents involving LHB coaches, only six people died. A High Level Safety Review Com- mittee in February 2012 had sug- gested the ICF coaches were not safe at an operational speed of 100-120 km per hour and they should be re- placed with LHB coaches. However, CAG found that the Indian Rail- ways stopped the production of ICF coaches from April 2018 and in that phase only 30% of railway coaches were LHB. The CAG reported that in June 2019, the Railway Board said that the ICF coaches were perfectly safe for the operating conditions and that there was no safety issue involved with the ICF coaches. As per reports, both trains had LHB coaches and the toll would have been much higher if ICF coaches were in- volved in the crash.

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