BALASORE, India— As per officials, the devastating derailment in eastern India, which claimed the lives of over 300 individuals and caused numerous injuries, resulted from an error in the electronic signaling system.
This error led to a train mistakenly switching tracks, causing it to collide with a freight train.
The incident occurred on Friday night in Balasore district, Odisha state, marking one of the deadliest rail disasters in the country in recent history.
Authorities are currently engaged in the challenging task of clearing the wreckage left behind by the two derailed passenger trains.
Jaya Verma Sinha, a senior railway official, said the preliminary investigations revealed that a signal was given to the high-speed Coromandel Express to run on the main track line, but the signal later changed, and the train instead entered an adjacent loop line where it rammed into a freight loaded with iron ore.
The collision flipped Coromandel Express’s coaches onto another track, causing the incoming Yesvantpur-Howrah Express from the opposite side also to derail, she said.
The passenger trains, carrying 2,296 people, were not overspeeding, she said. Trains that carry goods are often parked on an adjacent loop line on the side so the main line is clear for a passing train.
Verma said the root cause of the crash was related to an error in the electronic signaling system. She said a detailed investigation will reveal whether the error was human or technical.
The electronic interlocking system is a safety mechanism designed to prevent conflicting movements between trains.
It also monitors the status of signals that tell drivers how close they are to the next train, how fast they can go and the presence of stationary trains on the track.
“The system is 99.9% error-free. But 0.1% chances are always there for an error,” Verma said. To a question whether the crash could be a case of sabotage, she said: “Nothing is ruled out.”
On Sunday, a few shattered carriages, mangled and overturned, were the only remnants of the tragedy.
Railway workers toiled under the sun’s glare to lay down blocks of cement to fix the broken tracks. A crew with excavators was removing mud and debris to clear the crash site.
Fifteen bodies were recovered on Saturday evening and efforts continued overnight with heavy cranes being used to remove an engine that settled on top of a rail car.
No bodies were found in the engine and the work was completed on Sunday morning, said Sudhanshu Sarangi, director-general of fire and emergency services in Odisha.
The crash occurred at a time when Prime Minister Narendra Modi is focusing on the modernization of the British colonial-era railroad network in India, which has become the world’s most populous country with 1.42 billion people.
Despite government efforts to improve safety, several hundred accidents occur every year on India’s railways, the largest train network under one management in the world.
Modi visited the crash site on Saturday and talked to rescue officials. He also visited a hospital to inquire about the injured and spoke to some of them.