Odisha Train Accident: Sabotage, Mishap Or Mistake – What Initial Investigation Reveals?

Odisha Train Crash: Three trains of the Indian Railways were involved in one of the deadliest rail disasters in the world, that killed 275 and injured more than 1175 rail passengers. The incident took place a 6.55 PM on June 2, 2023 in the Balasore district of India’s Eastern state Odisha. As per the initial investigation, Shalimar-Chennai Coromandal Express running at a speed of 128 kmph rammed into a parked goods train on a loop line, resulting in the derailment of multiple coaches. The coaches then spilled on the adjacent track, hitting another train, the Bengaluru-Howrah Superfast Express, which was running at the speed of 116 kmph. 

While the goods train was not carrying any person and was full of iron ore, it suffered less damage. However, Coromandal Express that was speeding at 128 kmph rammed into a stationary freight train, absorbing the maximum damage in the incident. The Bengaluru-Howrah Superfast Express, on the other hand, suffered very less damage as only a couple of coaches derailed.

The Indian Railways initially said that 288 people were killed in the incident, however later corrected the data to 275 deaths. On the other hand, social media users and opposition parties are pressurizing the government to punish the culprits behind the incident. Ashwini Vaishnaw, the Railway Minister of India, who was among the first top politicians to reach the site, is overlooking the rescue and restoration work. 

In a recently given interview, Ashwini Vaishnaw said that the malfunction of the electronic interlocking system is behind the triple train accident. There are all sorts of theories floating on the social media, but the Indian Railways and Railway Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw said that the “root cause” of the accident and the “criminals” responsible for it have been identified.

Odisha Train Accident: Reason

As per a report om PTI, the Indian Railways on Sunday virtually ruled out driver error and system malfunction, indicating a possible “sabotage” and tampering of the electronic interlocking system. “It happened due to a change made in the electronic interlocking and point machine,” said Ashwini Vaishnaw. The tampering of electronic interlocking system meant that the Coromandel Express, which was running at 130 kmph speed, had entered the loop line at the station on which an iron ore-laden goods train was parked.

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. The loop lines are generally 750 metres in length to accommodate full-length goods train with multiple engines, reported PTI.

Possibility Of Sabotage

Top railway officials explained how the point machine and the interlocking system function. They said the system is “error proof” and “fail safe” but did not rule out the possibility of outside intervention. “It is called a fail safe system, so it means that even if it fails, all the signals will turn red and all train operations will stop. Now, as the minister said there was a problem with the signalling system. It could be that someone has done some digging without seeing the cables. Running of any machine is prone to failures,” Jaya Verma Sinha, Member of Operation and Business Development, Railway Board, said.

A senior railway official who did not want to be identified said this kind of tinkering with the “logic” of the AI-based electronic interlocking system can only be “intentional” and ruled out any malfunction in the system. “It could be a case of tampering or sabotage from within or from outside. We have not ruled anything out,” the senior railway official said.

Officials on Sunday gave the driver of the Coromandel Express (Coromandel Express) a clean chit by stating that he had the green signal to move forward and he was “not over-speeding”. It also indicated that a tampering could have occurred stating that the signal was “given and taken off for the up main line for train number 12841 (Coromandel Express), the train entered the loop line, dashed the goods train and derailed. In the meantime, train number 12864 passed through the down main line and two of its coaches derailed and capsized.”

Explaining how the two components mentioned by the minister are key to train operations, Sandeep Mathur, Principal Executive Director of Signalling, Railway Board, said that these two work in coordination to show the driver whether the track is clear to move forward. “Signal is interlocked in such a manner that it will show if the line ahead is occupied or not. It will also be known whether the point is taking a train straight or towards loop line.

“When the point shows straight and the track ahead is not occupied then the signal is green and if the point is taking the train on loop and track is clear then signal is yellow and the route is shown of a different direction,” he said. He said that the interlocking system is a safe way to guide a train out of a station.

A point machine is a vital device for railway signalling for quick operation and locking of point switches and plays an important role in the safe running of trains. Failure of these machines severely affects train movement. Sinha said that the direction, route and signal were set for the Coromandel Express.

“Green signal means that in every way the driver knows that his path ahead is clear and he can go forward with his permitted maximum speed. The permitted speed at this section was 130 kmph and he was running his train at 128 kmph which we have confirmed from loco logs,” she said.

Investigation Completed

Meanwhile, the Commissioner of Railway Safety (CRS) has completed his investigation at the site. He is expected to meet witnesses as part of his inquiry on Monday and Tuesday, reported PTI. 

“Commissioner of Railway Safety (South Eastern Circle) will hold a statutory enquiry from 09:00 hrs of 05.06.2023 (Monday) and 06.06.2023 (Tuesday) in the South Institute, Kharagpur in connection with the derailment of 12841 Shalimar-Chennai Central Coromandal Express & 12864 SMVT Bengaluru-Howrah Superfast Express at Bahanaga Bazar station near Balasore on 02.06.2023.

“Rail users, local public and other bodies may be present at the given time and place and may depose before the commission, regarding any information related to the accident case,” the South Eastern Railway said in a statement.

Other Theories

Jaya Varma Sinha, a member of the Railway Board said that there are many “possibilities of what can go wrong”. This could include someone digging in the area through which cables of the electronic system pass and damaging them in the process, or a short-circuit, or a machine failing. “99.9% there is no possibility of the machine failing but there is a 0.1% chance of failure,” she said.

“That possibility is always there in all kinds of systems.” She did not name the supplier or manufacturer, or the age of the system. But said it is in use across almost the entire Indian railway network.