The Mooknayak Explainer: Odisha Train Accident Raises Serious Questions

Odisha Train Accident
Odisha Train AccidentPic- Reuters

A terrible crash involving three trains has left at least 288 people dead and over 1000 injured. The Shalimar-Chennai Central Coromandel Express, the Bengaluru-Howrah Superfast Express, and a cargo train were all involved in the collision.

In the collision, one train rammed into the other so forcefully that the carriages were lifted into the air and twisted before crashing off the tracks. Another carriage's passenger portion had been crushed after being completely thrown onto its roof. According to railway officials, there were two trains carrying over 3,400 passengers.

Prior to the release of a crash investigation report, Railway Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw on Saturday suggested that a signal failure caused the disaster, citing a "change in electronic interlocking" as the most likely cause.

The electronic interlocking system in railway signaling regulates the paths taken by each train operating in a specific area, assuring their ability to travel along the rails safely.

According to a report published by NDTV, an official stated that the commissioner of railway safety for the south-eastern circle, which encompasses the accident scene in the Balasore region, would be in charge of the investigation.

The exact cause of the accident is yet unknown, but according to the railway ministry, it happened on Friday at about 18:55 (13:25 GMT) close to the Bahanaga Bazar station, around 270 kilometers (170 miles) south of Kolkata.

Three trains were involved in the accident

Coromandel Express, which had left Shalimar railway station in the state of West Bengal a few hours before and was traveling to Chennai in the south. Howrah Superfast Express, which departed from Bengaluru's Yesvantpur station and was scheduled to arrive in Howrah, At the Bahanaga Bazar station, there was a standing goods train. Different people have different ideas on which train derailed first and how the crash occurred. However, according to railway spokesman Amitabh Sharma, the Coromandel Express derailed first.This unprecedented accident ranked among the top five deadliest ones in Indian railway history.

India boasts one of the world's most extensive rail systems. Tens of millions of passengers utilize its more than 12,000 passenger trains per day to travel across the nation, but much of the railway infrastructure needs to be improved.

Audit report identified serious rail safety concerns

In a 2022 report on derailments in Indian Railways, India's top auditing authority, the Comptroller and Auditor General of India, aimed to determine if the railway ministry had properly defined and put into practice procedures to prevent derailments and collisions.

It raised major concerns about severe deficiencies in inspections, failure to file or accept inquiry reports following accidents, ineffective use of money designated for priority activities, a deteriorating trend in funding track renewal, and insufficient staffing in safety operations.

"There were shortfalls ranging from 30 to 100 percent in Track Recording Car inspections required to assess the geometrical and structural conditions of railway tracks," the report stated.

The Track Management System, which has been the subject of much discussion since the train accident in Odisha, was also mentioned in the report as having flaws.

A web-based tool called the railway Management System (TMS) allows for online tracking of railway maintenance activities. However, it was discovered that the TMS portal's built-in monitoring system was not functional.

The 'Engineering Department' was responsible for 422 derailments between April 2017 and March 2021. According to the research, "bad driving/overspeeding" was the leading cause of derailments. "Maintenance of track" was the main cause of derailments in 171 incidents, followed by "deviation of track parameters beyond permissible limits" in 156 cases.

The 'Operating Department' was responsible for 275 accidents. According to the CAG, 'incorrect point setup and other faults in shunting operations' accounted for 84 percent.

According to the report, the "inquiry reports" were not provided to the accepting authority by the deadline in 63% of cases, while accepting authorities delayed the reports in 49% of cases.

The Rashtriya Rail Sanraksha Kosh, a reserve fund that received a corpus of 1 lakh crore over five years commencing from 2017–18, was found to have a downward tendency in overall expenditure on key tasks, according to the report. According to the CAG assessment, funding for track renewal projects was not awarded, and the monies that had been allocated were also not used entirely.

The CAG recommended Railways adopt fully automated track maintenance techniques and new technologies to ensure strict adherence to the scheduled timelines for conducting and concluding accident investigations as well as developing a strong monitoring mechanism to ensure timely implementation of maintenance activities.

Opposition draws flak

Political responses to the tragedy also flooded in. Banerjee referred to it as the "biggest train accident of the 21st century" and exhorted Vaishnaw to find out what went wrong.

Abhishek Banerjee, national general secretary of the TMC, and Binoy Viswam, leader of the CPI, called for Vaishnaw's resignation on Saturday.

On Sunday, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, the general secretary of the Congress, also demanded his resignation. She joined many who had previously mentioned the customary practice of railway ministers tendering their resignation in the wake of much smaller catastrophes.

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Mallikarjun Kharge took to Twitter and posted a question to the Modi government on Twitter after what was possibly the worst railway tragedy in independent India. Government administration has been undermined by marketing and public relations ploys. He charged that by failing to fill the openings, the Centre had created a "scarcity of manpower". Why weren't they filled in 9 years? There are 3 lakh vacant positions in the Railways, including big officer positions.

Supreme Court PIL filed for investigation by expert panel

A PIL has been submitted to the Supreme Court asking for an expert panel led by a retired judge of the high court to investigate the triple railway tragedy in Balasore, Odisha.

Over 1,000 people have been injured as a result of the Balasore railway catastrophe, which involved two passenger trains and a freight wagon. 288 people have already died as a result of the accident.

In order to protect public safety, the PIL further requested guidelines and instructions for the urgent installation of the Automatic Train Protection (ATP) System, also known as the KAVACH Protection System, by Indian Railways.

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