Odisha train tragedy 'entirely due to human error', say railway sources amid push for CBI probe

A TNIE investigation pieces together the sequence of events that led to the tragedy in Odisha's Balasore

Published: 05th June 2023 05:16 PM  |   Last Updated: 05th June 2023 05:16 PM   |  A+A-

Bahanaga Bazar station panel room (Express Photo | Hemant Kumar Rout)

Express News Service

BAHANAGA: What led to the Odisha train tragedy? How did the derailment that took 275 lives and left 1199 injured happen?

Even as Indian Railways on Sunday recommended a CBI probe into the train crash, an investigation by The New Indian Express revealed that it was the outcome of 'human error'.

“It was entirely due to human error. We have identified the error and found the involvement of two persons,” a railway source told TNIE on the condition of anonymity.

Bahanaga Bazar station where the derailment occurred has two mainline tracks -- Up and Down lines -- for trains to pass through and two loop lines used for a temporary halt to allow smooth movement of trains on the main lines.

After a goods train was allowed to stay on the Up loop line, the signal was given for the Coromandel Express on the Up mainline. Usually, after a train is allowed into the loop line by switching on the panel, a piece of track is moved from the mainline to the loop line and once the train is in, the switch is moved back in the route relay panel to ensure that the moved piece of track is returned to its original position.

But here the track piece did not return from the loop line to the mainline and the point was towards the loop line before the green signal was given for the Coromandel Express. As per the data logger at Kharagpur, the issue reflected on the panel at the station and a red light flashed for a few seconds, but the station manager present at that time somehow missed it.

As the piece of track, according to sources, had not returned to its original position (from the loop line to mainline) after the goods train moved on the loop line, the Coromandel Express that was moving at 128 kmph at the time came on the loop line and rammed into the stationary iron ore laden freight train. Had the station manager noticed the red light and taken measures, this crash could have been avoided, the sources said.

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Describing the human error, a railway official said that prior to the accident, the mainline and loop line junction had developed some snags, which were repaired by a signal maintainer. “Possibly, the technician who repaired the circuit made a direct connection with the signal bypassing the procedures which is why the station manager could give the signal without knowing the track position. The technician adopted a shortcut method to repair the fault. The station manager could have verified properly if the track movement is smooth at the junction after repair,” the official said.

The electronic signaling system is error proof and fail-safe, which means when it fails, all signals will turn red to stop all train operations. The station manager cannot give a green signal if there is any fault in the lines. “This is perhaps for the first time in railways history that it happened due to the shortcut method adopted to repair the fault,” the source said.

The indications given in the preliminary joint inspection also corroborated it. According to the report, the signal was given and taken off (meaning it turned green) for the Coromandel Express for the Up mainline, but the track point was found set for the Up loop line which is why the train came on the loop line and derailed.

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Some railway experts said since the signal was taken off and the panel set for the Up mainline for the Coromandel Express, the route relay interlocking should have prevented point switching to the loop line when a train was there. This major malfunction could be due to the shortcut repair method and has to be properly investigated, they demanded.

Before the railway board's recommendation for a CBI probe, Railways Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw had also said that the root cause of the accident and the people responsible for it were identified. "It happened due to a change made in the electronic interlocking and point machine," he told reporters.

Three separate teams of forensic experts from Kolkata, Hyderabad and New Delhi have visited the station and collected evidence. They also interacted with railway officials and station staff who were present at the time of the accident. The technician, station manager and other railway staff are being interrogated by separate teams.


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