'Warnings ignored': Flaws in signalling system flagged 3 months before Odisha train accident
Published: Jun 4, 2023, 10:20 PM
Hyderabad:AsRailway Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw has attributed the Odisha train tragedy, which has resulted in the loss of 270 lives, to a "change in electronic interlocking", a top railway official had raised concerns about "serious flaws in the system" earlier this year.
The chief operating manager of the South Western Railway Zone had previously raised concerns about "serious flaws in the system" in a letter dated February 9 in which the officer had highlighted an incident involving a signal failure on an express train, which was averted thanks to the alertness of a loco pilot.
In the letter, the official described the incident stating, "A very serious unusual incident occurred on 08.02.2023 at around 17.45 hrs, wherein Up Train No: 12649 Sampark Kranti Express, while starting from Road1, with Paper line clear ticket (PLCT) for advance starter as same was failed due to BPAC (block proving axle counter) failure, starter was working alright, thus, taken off at 17.45 Hrs. The loco-pilot of train no: 12649 Sampark Kranti Express had stopped the train before Point No: 65 A, while observing that the point was set to down main line (Wrong line), while as per PLCT, the train was supposed to pass through up main line."
Expressing concern, he stated that this incident revealed "serious flaws in the system where the route of dispatch gets altered after a train starts on signals with the correct appearance of route on the SMS panel. This contravenes the essence and basic principles of interlocking."
He recommended taking necessary actions against those responsible and implementing immediate corrective measures to rectify the flaws in the signalling system of railway stations in the South Western Railway (SWR) territory. He also emphasized the importance of sharing the outcome of the detailed investigation and the measures taken for system rectification to educate station masters, TIs, and traffic officers for training, information, and necessary actions.
The tragic accident in Odisha's Balasore district involved two passenger trains, the Bengaluru-Howrah Superfast Express and the Shalimar-Chennai Central Coromandel Express, as well as a goods train. The collision resulted from a derailment, causing the death of at least 275 people and leaving over 1,100 injured.
While the investigation report by the commissioner of railway safety is awaited, the railway minister acknowledged the cause of the incident and the responsible individuals, attributing it to a change in electronic interlocking. The focus now is on restoration efforts.
The concerned officer also issued a warning regarding the signal maintenance system, stating that failure to monitor and rectify it promptly could lead to further accidents. In his letter, he questioned why proper procedures were not followed by the signal maintainer, emphasizing the importance of adhering to the rules and procedures for non-interlocked working.
Reacting to the letter, Congress slammed the Modi government and called the Balasore train tragedy "a man-made disaster which took place because of the complete incompetence and misplaced priorities of the Union Government".
In a long tweet, Congress General Secretary and MP KC Venugopal wrote: "The Balasore train tragedy is a man-made disaster which took place because of the complete incompetence and misplaced priorities of the Union Government. The Prime Minister must take responsibility for this failure. The resignation of the Union Railway Minister is an inevitability.
"This has taken place because the Modi Government failed to undertake the necessary safety and maintenance measures. It ignored multiple prior warnings about track and signal failures, including the latest one from the South Western Railways on Feb 9th 2023 pointing to the need to revamp signalling infrastructure.
"Their sole focus has been on the Prime Minister's PR through mega launch events. The government should be ashamed of what has transpired and the Prime Minister must answer to the entire nation for letting this happen under his watch."