Odisha train crash: Key takeaways from preliminary reports to gutwrenching survivor stories
Seventeen coaches were derailed and severely damaged in the triple train crash, trapping hundreds of passengers. At least 288 have been killed and 1,100 have been injured so far.
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.
In a matter of minutes, the Shalimar-Chennai Central Coromandel entered a wrong track, hit a stationary goods train, its coaches got scattered all around including on an adjoining track, and another train — the Bengaluru-Howrah Superfast Express — coming at a high speed rammed into them and derailed.
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.
Preliminary report states 'signal was given and taken off'
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, where it crashed into a goods train parked there.
The initial joint inspection report by Kharagpur railway division officials revealed that the track joints were incorrectly positioned, and the signal panel in the station master's room failed to synchronize with them at Bahanaga Bazar station.
The Bengaluru-Howrah Superfast Express which was coming at high speed crashed into the coaches of Coromandel Express that had scattered on the adjacent track.
Survivors recall horrific triple train crash
"Hundreds of passengers were shouting for help. I was afraid and in shock. At that time I did not even know if I was alive or dead. I kept reminding myself that I have to survive and meet my children, wife and parents," said 36-year-old Srimantha Sumantha, who survived the accident.
18-year-old Nisar and his niece were resting in the S4 compartment of the Coromandel Express when the fatal incident happened. "It was like a small earthquake that we felt seconds before the accident. There was a loud noise and before we could react, our coach had overturned," Nisar said. As Nisar opened his eyes, he found himself lying on the floor. The collision was so strong that everyone fell down on one another.
On leave NDRF Jawan sent 1st accident alert, 'live location' of mishap site
An on-leave NDRF Jawan travelling on the Coromandel Express was perhaps the first person to alert emergency services about the train's accident in Odisha's Balasore before he joined initial rescue efforts, officials said on Saturday.
National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) jawan Venkatesh NK was on leave and travelling from Howrah in West Bengal to Tamil Nadu. He had a narrow escape as his coach B-7, though derailed did not collide with coaches ahead of it, the officials said. He was in a third AC coach and his seat number was 58.
The 39-year-old, posted with the NDRF's 2nd battalion in Kolkata, first called his senior inspector in the battalion to inform him about the accident. He then sent the "live location" of the site on WhatsApp to the NDRF control room, and this was used by the first rescue teams to reach the spot, they said.
"I felt a massive jolt... and then I saw some passengers in my coach falling down. I brought the first passenger out and seated him in a shop near the railway track... I then rushed to help others," Venkatesh told PTI from onboard a relief train that is taking him to Chennai.
In one of the worst railway disasters in India, at least 280 people were killed and more than 900 injured when three trains collided one after another in a horrific sequence in #Odisha's Balasore district.#BalasoreTrainAccident #OdishaTrainTragedy #TrainAccident pic.twitter.com/HLa6zIzsdB— The New Indian Express (@NewIndianXpress) June 3, 2023
He said locals, including a medical shop owner, were the "real saviours" as they helped the victims with whatever was available with them. It was pitch dark and locals too used their mobile phones and torches to help passengers till rescue teams arrived.
PM Modi visits accident site, promises stringent action if any found guilty
Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the accident site and was briefed by Railway Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw as well as officers of the disaster management teams. He also met some of the injured in the hospital.
"No one would be spared and strong action would be taken against those found guilty. Instructions have been given to ensure the proper and speedy investigation into the tragedy," Modi said, adding that more focus will be given to the security of rail passengers.
Opposition flags questions on passenger safety, calls for Railway Minister to resign
Expressing shock and grief at the loss of lives in the train accident in Odisha, opposition leaders on Saturday stressed the importance of prioritising the safety of passengers by railways, while there were also demands to fix accountability and for the resignation of Railway Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw.
The Congress said the "horrendous" train accident in Odisha reinforces why safety should always be the foremost priority in the functioning of the rail network and asserted that there are many questions to ask of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Railway Minister Vaishnaw but those can wait as the immediate task was of rescue and relief. In a video statement, Kharge said it was the time to stay united and pointed out that several state governments have come forward to help out with the rescue efforts in Odisha
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who is a former railway minister, flew to the accident site on Saturday afternoon and demanded a proper investigation. "This is the biggest train accident of this century and a proper investigation must be conducted," the Trinamool Congress (TMC) chief told reporters. "Something must be behind this. The truth must come out. Why didn't the anti-collision system work?" Banerjee said.
RJD chief and former railway minister Lalu Prasad claimed that sheer negligence has caused the train tragedy and alleged that the BJP-led government at the Centre has "destroyed" the railways.
The accident highlights the infrastructural deficiencies of the Railways and lapses in passenger safety, Bihar minister and JD(U) leader Sanjay Kumar Jha said, noting that Nitish Kumar had resigned as railway minister in August 1999 taking moral responsibility for the Gaisal train accident.
Gurdeep Singh Sappal, co-ordinator in the Congress president's office, said, "Resignation in such cases is expected not just on moral grounds. Resignation is also a means to ensure that those in power and accountable for the accident do not influence such 'high-level inquiry'."
World leaders express condolences and extend support to India
World leaders, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, expressed their condolences to the families and the Government of India.
Pakistan PM Shehbaz Sharif, French President Emmanuel Macron and Nepal PM Pusha Kumar Dahal, who is on a four-day visit to India, were also among those who offered their support.
LIC eases claim process norms for Odisha train accident victims
National insurer LIC on Saturday announced many relaxations for the claim settlement process for the kin of the victims in the Balasore train tragedy.
The Corporation also announced many concessions to mitigate the hardships of the claimants of LIC policies and also of the Pradhan Mantri Jeevan Jyoti Bima Yojana. It said in lieu of registered death certificates, a list of casualties published by the Railways, police or any state or Central authorities will be accepted as proof of death.
The Corporation has also set up a special help desk and a call centre number (022-68276827) at the divisional and branch levels to respond to claim-related queries and for providing assistance to claimants.
Around 90 trains cancelled, 46 diverted
Around 90 trains were cancelled, mostly in the Southern and South Eastern Railway Zones, while 46 were diverted and 11 short-terminated following the three-train accident.
According to the latest data released by the two zones, the South Eastern Railway cancelled trains such as the Chennai-Howrah Mail, the Darbhanga-Kanniyakumari Express and the Kamakhya-LTT Express journey commencing on June 3. It has also cancelled the Patna-Puri Special train with the journey commencing on June 4.
The Southern Railway cancelled trains such as the Mangalore-Santragachi Vivek Superfast Express, Dr MGR Chennai Central-Shalimar Coromandel Express and Dr MGR Chennai Central-Santragachi AC Superfast. It also cancelled Rangapara North-Erode Superfast Special, the Guwahati-Sri M.Visveswaraya Bengaluru Tri Weekly Superfast Express and Kamakhya-Sir M.Visveswaraya Bengaluru AC Superfast Express.
The railways has also short-terminated 11 trains due to the accident.