Signal error led to Indian rail crash that killed 275, says minister

Signal Error Led To Indian Rail Crash That Killed 275, Says Minister
The explanation came as authorities worked to clear the mangled wreckage of the two passenger trains that derailed in eastern Odisha state. Photo: PA Images
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Rafiq Maqbool and Ashok Sharma, Associated Press

The rail crash in eastern India which killed 275 people and injured hundreds of others was caused by an error in the electronic signalling system which led to a train wrongly changing tracks, India’s railways minister said on Sunday.

“Who has done it and what is the reason will come out of an investigation,” Ashwini Vaishnaw said in an interview with New Delhi Television network.


The explanation came as authorities worked to clear the mangled wreckage of the two passenger trains that derailed in the Balasore district of eastern Odisha state on Friday night, in one of the country’s deadliest rail accidents in decades.

An Odisha government statement revised the death toll to 275 after a state officer put the number at over 300 on Sunday morning.

India Train Derailment
People look at photographs to identify passengers who were travelling in the derailed trains (Rafiq Maqbool/AP)


The Press Trust of India news agency earlier reported that preliminary investigations had revealed that a signal was given to the Coromandel Express to enter the main track line but the signal was later taken off.

The train entered another line, known as the loop line, and crashed into a goods train parked there, PTI said.

Fifteen bodies were recovered on Saturday evening and efforts continued overnight as heavy cranes were used to remove an engine that had settled on top of a rail car.

No bodies were found in the engine and the work was completed on Sunday morning, said Sudhanshu Sarangi, director-general of fire and emergency services in Odisha.


India Train Derailment
The scene of the crash in eastern India (Rafiq Maqbool/AP)

The accident happened at a time when Indian prime jminister Narendra Modi is focusing on the modernisation of the British colonial-era railroad network in India, which has become the world’s most populous country with 1.42 billion people.

Despite government efforts to improve rail safety, several hundred accidents occur every year on India’s railways, the largest train network under one management in the world.


Chaotic scenes erupted on Friday night as rescuers climbed on top of the wrecked trains to break open doors and windows using cutting torches to try to save people who were trapped inside the carriages.

Mr Modi went to the crash site on Saturday to see the relief effort and talk to rescue officials.

He also visited a hospital, where he asked doctors about the treatments being given to the injured, and spoke to some of the patients.

He told reporters he felt the pain of those who suffered in the accident, and said the government will do its utmost to help them and strictly punish anyone found responsible.


APTOPIX India Train Derailment
Rescuers recover the body of a victim (Rafiq Maqbool/AP)

Ten to 12 coaches of one train derailed, and debris from some of the mangled coaches fell on to a nearby track.

The debris was hit by another passenger train coming from the opposite direction, causing up to three coaches of the second train to also derail, a rail ministry spokesperson said.

At one of the hospitals near the site, survivors spoke of the horror of the moment of the crash.

Pantry worker Inder Mahato could not remember the exact sequence of events, but said he heard a loud bang when the Coromandel Express crashed into the freight. The impact caused Mr Mahato, who was in the toilet, to briefly lose consciousness.

For hours, Mr Mahato (37) remained stuck in the train’s toilet, before rescuers scaled up the wreckage and pulled him out.

“God saved me,” he said, from a hospital bed while recuperating from a hairline fracture in his sternum. “I am very lucky I am alive.”

Four of Mr Mahato’s friends died in the crash, he said.

In 1995, two trains collided near New Delhi, killing 358 people in one of the worst rail accidents in India.

In 2016, a passenger train slid off the tracks between the cities of Indore and Patna, killing 146 people.

Most rail accidents in India are blamed on human error or outdated signalling equipment.

More than 12 million people take 14,000 trains across India every day, travelling on 64,000km of track.

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