India train crash: Investigation centers on possible signal failure after rescue efforts end

A train crash in eastern India on Friday was the country’s worst railway disaster in two decades, killing more than 270 people and renewing questions about railway safety in a country that has invested heavily in the system – on which millions of people depend every day – in recent years after a long history. of fatal accidents.

Two passenger trains collided around 7 pm Friday local time after one of them collided with a stationary freight train at full speed and derailed in Balasore district of Odisha state, according to a preliminary government report. At least 275 people have been killed, the state government said Sunday, revising an earlier death toll of 288 after an official said some casualties were double counted. More than 1,100 passengers have been infected.

In a preliminary assessment, officials said the disaster began when the first of two passenger trains struck the stopped freight train at full speed, then derailed. Then a second passenger train traveling in the opposite direction hit some dislocated cars. Officials are focusing on signal problems as the possible cause.

More than 2,200 passengers were on the commuter trains, according to railroad officials, and at least 23 cars were derailed. The force of the impact left the cars so disfigured that rescuers used cutting equipment to reach the victims.

One of the trains was the Shalimar-Chennai Coromandel express, according to the South Eastern Railway. the Coromandel Express A service that connects the largest cities on the east coast of India at a relatively high speed. Another passenger train was the Yesvantpur-Howrah Superfast Express, running from a commuter hub in the southern city of Bengaluru to Kolkata, the capital of the northeastern state of West Bengal.

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Indian Railways Minister Ashwini Vaishnau said he had ordered an investigation into the cause and those affected by the accident. He will receive compensation.

The train derailed near Balasore.

The accident occurred at Pahanaga Bazar station near the coastal city of Balasore in the northeastern state of Odisha. The area is known for its ancient temples and its history as a British trading center from the 17th century.

Balasore is several hours drive from the nearest airport in Bhubaneswar, the capital of Odisha. May is usually the hottest time of the year, and daily temperatures reach around 100°C in the days leading up to the meltdown.

The rescue operation ended on Saturday. Dozens of trains were canceled but crews scrambled to restore service after rolling the rail cars involved in the accident off the tracks. Mr. Vaishinau said he expects service to resume by Wednesday at the latest. But the delay meant that so were the families of the victims Still struggling to get to the crash site on SundayAnd many of the bodies are unclaimed, according to local officials and doctors.

Deviations are becoming less common.

Often cited as essential to India’s economy, the country’s extensive railway network is one of the largest in the world, and is central to life and livelihoods, particularly in rural enclaves. Almost all of India’s railways were built, 98 percent, from 1870 to 1930, according to Study 2018 Published in the American Economic Review.

It is believed that the deadliest accident in the history of Indian Railways was in 1981, when a passenger train derailed while crossing a bridge in Bihar. Its cars sank into the Bagmati River, killing an estimated 750 passengers. Many bodies have not been found.

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Cases of deviance were frequent in India, with an average of 475 cases annually from 1980 until about the turn of the century. They are becoming less common, averaging just over 50 in the decade leading up to 2021, according to the paper By railway officials who presented at the World Conference on Disaster Management.

A railway employee cuts a railway track after it derailed in Pokhrayan in northeastern India in 2016.credit…Jitendra Prakash/Reuters

Rail safety overall has improved in recent years, with the total number of serious train accidents dropping steadily to 22 in fiscal 2020, from more than 300 annually two decades ago. By 2020, for two years in a row, India has recorded no deaths from railway accidents – a milestone that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has applauded. Until 2017, more than 100 passengers were killed each year.

However, fatal accidents continued. In 2016, 14 train coaches derailed in northeastern India in the middle of the night, killing more than 140 passengers and injuring 200 others. Officials said at the time that a “fracture” in the tracks could have been the cause. In 2017, a derailment late at night in southern India killed at least 36 passengers and injured 40 others.

Friday’s accident was at least the deadliest since a 1995 collision about 125 miles from Delhi that killed more than 350 people.

Modi has made improving transportation a priority.

One of the main reasons for improving train safety was the cancellation of thousands of unsupervised rail crossings, which Modi’s government said was achieved in 2019. The relatively low-level engineering work in building tunnels and deploying more signal conductors has also been cut back significantly. accidents.

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Mr. Modi has made it his priority to improve infrastructure, especially transportation systems, across the country. In recent years, the railways, among the most visible projects for ordinary citizens, have received the attention of a series of high-tech initiatives. Mr. Modi was inaugurating medium-range electric trains and building a Japanese-style “bullet train” corridor on the west coast to connect Mumbai to Ahmedabad.

But instead of opening a new train as scheduled, Modi visited the site of the train wreck on Saturday.

A high-speed train in Ahmedabad in September.credit…Amit Dev/Reuters

The train system, and especially train accidents, have always affected the fortunes of politicians in India. The post of Minister of Railways in the Cabinet was one of the most coveted positions as it was high ranking and influential in business and industry. Suresh Prabhu, who is credited with designing a world-class metro system in New Delhi, was pressured into resigning from his position in September 2017, after a series of incidents.

Within hours of Friday’s debacle, some opposition politicians were already calling for Mr Vaishnau’s resignation.

Mujeeb Meshaal Contribute to the preparation of reports.

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