Odisha train tragedy: Was it human error? Preliminary reports state 'signal given and taken off'

A drone view shows derailed coaches after two passenger trains collided in Balasore district in the eastern state of Odisha, India, June 3, 2023. Photo: Reuters/Stringer

Balasore/Bhubaneswar: Investigators were on Saturday looking into any human error, signal failure and other possible causes behind the three-train crash in Odisha's Balasore district as officials submitted a preliminary inquiry report into the worst rail accident in India in nearly three decades that left at least 288 people dead and over 1,100 injured.

The crash involving Bengaluru-Howrah Superfast Express and Shalimar-Chennai Central Coromandel Express, which were carrying around 2,000 passengers, and a goods train occurred around 7 PM on Friday near the Bahanaga Bazar station in Balasore, about 250 km south of Kolkata and 170 km north of Bhubaneswar.

Preliminary investigations have revealed that a signal was given to Coromandel Express to enter the main line but it was taken off and the train entered the loop line and crashed into a goods train parked there.

The Bengaluru-Howrah Superfast Express which was coming at high speed rammed into the coaches of Coromandel Express that had scattered on the adjacent track.

Seventeen coaches were derailed and severely damaged in the accident, trapping hundreds of passengers. Both passenger trains were at a high speed and it has been cited by experts as one of the main reasons for the high number of casualties.

An injured passenger of Balasore triple train mishap at the Howrah Railway Station on Saturday. Photo: PTI

From a vantage point high above the ground, the disaster site looked as if a powerful whirlwind had thrown the coaches like toys on top of each other. Closer to the ground, bloodied, disfigured bodies and dismembered body parts lay enmeshed, creating a grotesque sight.

Large cranes were deployed to move the wreckage and gas cutters were used to extricate the bodies from the mangled, toppled coaches.

The rescue operation was wrapped up Saturday afternoon and restoration work started. With traffic on the route disrupted, over 150 trains were cancelled, diverted or short-terminated.

High-level probe ordered
The national transporter has initiated a high-level probe into the accident that will be headed by the commissioner of railway safety, South Eastern Circle, officials said.

Odisha train mishap
People, who were injured in trains collision, lie in a hospital corridor in Balasore district in the eastern state of Odisha. Photo: Reuters

Railways officials have claimed it is not yet clear if Coromandel Express entered the loop line and hit the stationary goods train or it first derailed and then hit the parked train after entering the loop line.

The loop lines of the Indian Railways are constructed in a station area -- in this case, the Bahanagar Bazar station -- to accommodate more trains to ease out the operations.

While Coromandel Express was at a speed of 128 kmph, Bengaluru-Howrah Superfast Express was running at a speed of 116 kmph. The report has been submitted to the Railway Board, sources said.

These trains generally run up to a maximum speed of 130 kmph.

"A M Chowdhary, CRS, SE Circle, will inquire into the accident," a spokesperson of the Indian Railways said. None of the authorities talked about any possibility of sabotage.

"The rescue operation has been completed. Now, we are starting the restoration work. Kavach was not available on this route," Indian Railways Spokesperson Amitabh Sharma said.

Minister Narendra Modi interacts with rescuers as he takes stock of the situation at the site of the accident involving Coromandel Express, Bengaluru-Howrah Express and a goods train in Balasore district of Odisha on Saturday. Photo: PTI

Modi visits Balasore
Prime Minister Modi visited the accident site and took stock of relief operations. He was accompanied by Vaishnaw and Union Education Minister Dharmendra Pradhan. The prime minister also met the victims at Balasore Hospital.

Noting that this train accident will be a lesson, he said the government will further stress on the safety of the passengers.

The prime minister said that it was not possible to bring back those killed in the incident, but the government stands solidly behind their families.

"No stone will be left unturned to provide all possible medical help to those injured," Modi said.

He lauded the efforts of the Odisha government in the rescue and relief operations, and commended the locals who turned up in large numbers for blood donation, and to help those injured.

The railways have announced an ex-gratia amount of Rs 10 lakh for the next of kin of the deceased, Rs 2 lakh for those grievously injured and Rs 50,000 for those with minor injuries.

Modi has announced an additional ex-gratia of Rs 2 lakh for the next of kin of the deceased and Rs 50,000 for the injured from the Prime Minister's National Relief Fund. Other states too have announced assistance.

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