Indian train accident: Cause and culprits identified, says Railway Minister

New Delhi/London/Hong Kong

Rescue efforts wrapped up and overturned coaches were removed from the tracks in Balasore in eastern Odisha state on Sunday, as authorities rushed to resume train services after one of the worst train disasters in the country’s history.

At least 275 people were killed and more than 1,000 injured in what authorities described as a three-way accident involving two passenger trains and a stationary freight train on Friday evening. The toll was reduced from at least 288 after officials said some bodies at the scene were counted twice in the chaos of the rubble.

Officials are investigating whether a signal failure — a technical glitch or human error — led to the crash. India’s Railways Minister Ashwini Vaishnav said on Sunday that the accident was caused by an “electronic interlock change” and that an investigation would determine “who is responsible for that mistake”.

“The cause has been identified and those responsible have been identified,” he told Indian news agency ANI, declining to provide further details pending a government report.

According to senior railway officials, the Coromandel Express, a high-speed train from Kolkata to Chennai, was diverted on a loop line and collided with a heavy goods train stopped at Pahanaka Bazar station. Its coaches derailed on the opposite track, where they collided with a high-speed train, the Howrah Express, traveling from Bangalore.

Dipyangshu Sarkar/AFP/Getty Images

Rescuers gathered around damaged vehicles as they searched for survivors at the scene of Saturday’s crash.

Jay Verma Sinha, an Indian Railway Ministry official, said on Sunday that the high-speed collision of the Coromandel Express with a freight train carrying iron ore was responsible for the large number of fatalities and injuries.

“The train was traveling at full speed, at a speed of 128 kmph and the impact was high [79.5mph]And the other issue here is that it was a freight train carrying iron ore, which is a heavy train, so the full impact of the collision was felt on the moving train,” Sinha said.

The other passenger train was also traveling at a very high speed of 126 km per hour, he added [78.2mph]and in the last fraction of a second its last three coaches were in the path of the other derailed coaches.

Anger over the deadly accident is mounting, along with frustration over long-standing safety issues plaguing India’s aging and outdated rail network. With train tracks still blocked, families of dead passengers have to find their way to the accident site by other means to identify the dead.

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Hopes of finding more survivors faded as officials on Sunday shifted their focus from searching for people trapped under overturned vehicles to clearing the rubble. All 21 derailed coaches at Bahanaga Bazar station have been replaced and the rest of the platform is being repaired to resume services.

More than 1,000 workers, seven excavators, two accident relief trains and four railway and road cranes were involved in the rescue operation at the accident site.

Facing calls from opposition politicians to resign, Vaishnav said “the goal is to create a complete, normal situation by Wednesday morning”, adding that “we have mobilized a lot of resources”.

According to India’s Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya, who arrived in Odisha state on Sunday morning, the number of injured is more than 1,000, with more than 100 patients requiring intensive care.

Specialist doctors, special equipment and medicines have been flown in from the Indian capital New Delhi, Mandavia added.

Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik on Sunday announced 500,000 rupees ($6,067) to the kin of the dead and 100,000 rupees ($1,213) to those seriously injured.

“All possible steps have been taken to save the lives of the injured passengers at various hospitals,” Patnaik said in a statement issued by Odisha’s Information and Public Relations Department.

State officials said a special train service would be run on Sunday to transport the survivors and dead bodies from Odisha.

The train runs to Chennai in South Tamil Nadu stopping at all major stations and a parcel carriage is attached to carry the bodies of the deceased.

Who is Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi? Visited the site On Saturday, he praised local authorities and rescue workers for their work, while reaffirming that those responsible for the accident will be brought to justice.

“I appreciate Railways, NDRF (National Disaster Response Force), ODRAF (Odisha Disaster Rapid Response Force), local authorities, police department, fire brigade, volunteers and every person working tirelessly on the ground. Strengthening rescue operations. I am proud of their commitment,” he said.


Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the crash site on Saturday.

World leaders including Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Russian President Vladimir Putin, US President Joe Biden, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida have expressed condolences over the past two days.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he was “deeply saddened by the loss of life and injury,” his spokesman said. Pope Francis was “deeply saddened to learn of the enormous loss of life,” a Vatican statement said.

The train crash has raised questions about the safety of the country’s massive and outdated rail network, as the government invests in modernizing it.

India’s extensive railway network, the largest in the world, was built 160 years ago under British colonial rule. Today, about 11,000 trains run every day over 67,000 miles in the world’s most populous country.

Decaying infrastructure is often cited as a reason for traffic delays and countless train accidents in India. Although government statistics show that accidents and derailments have been on the decline in recent years, they are still sadly common.

In 2021, more than 16,000 people were killed in 18,000 train accidents across the country. According to National Crime Records, the majority of rail accidents – 67.7% – were caused by falls from trains and collisions between trains and people on the track. Train-to-train collisions are rare.

Improving India’s transport infrastructure is a key priority in Modi’s drive to create a $5 trillion economy by 2025. In the fiscal year that began in April, Modi’s government increased capital spending on airports, road and highway construction and other infrastructure projects to $122 billion. , or 1.7% of its GDP.

A significant portion of that spending is aimed at introducing more high-speed trains to its notoriously slow railways. India’s new budget earmarks $29 billion for railway development, according to business-strategy firm Albright Stonebridge Group.

An ambitious National Rail Plan announced in 2021 envisages connecting all major cities in North, West and South India by high-speed rail. Preference is given to cities between 300 kilometers and 700 kilometers with a population of at least one million.

Several major projects, including the construction of the world’s tallest railway bridge in Jammu and Kashmir, have now been completed or are nearing completion. Modi was scheduled to inaugurate the Vande Bharat Express, a new high-speed train, on Saturday before the accident.

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