Railway Safety Report on Balasore accident ready. Reveals that same fault was earlier neglected

The report highlights lapses in signalling and calls for urgent corrective measures to prevent future tragedies.

Published : Jul 04, 2023 07:03 IST - 4 MINS READ

The train accident site at Balasore in Odisha on June 3, 2023.

The train accident site at Balasore in Odisha on June 3, 2023. | Photo Credit: STRINGER

The massive train tragedy at Bahanaga Bazar, which resulted in the death of about 300 passengers, could have been avoided if the Railways had paid heed to a technical fault of the same nature that occurred earlier, says the report of the Commissioner of Railway Safety.

The report—signed by A.M. Chowdhary, Commissioner of Railway Safety, South Eastern Circle, Kolkata—is highly technical in nature and does not offer scapegoats but states that the “lapses” at various levels in the Signal and Telecommunication department were responsible for this accident. It adds, “Notwithstanding the lapses in signalling work, if the SM/BNBR [station master] had informed the repeated unusual behaviour of the crossover 17 A/B [the loop line—main UP line interface] to the S & T staff, they could have traced the false feed extending to the EI logic for the circuit for crossover 17 A/B.”

This means that there were at least two levels at which the accident could have been prevented. However, officials and sources that this correspondent spoke to insisted that this was a tall order: Station Masters were too overburdened to stretch themselves to do more, and a problem in one station has not led to a system-wide overhaul or corrective measures in the Railways.

“It is also learned from the PCSTE/SER’s letter that there was a similar incident of mismatch between the intended route set by signals and the actual route taken by the train on 16.05.2022 at BKNM (Bankra Nayabaj) station in the Kharagpur division of South Eastern Railway, due to wrong wiring and cable fault. Had corrective measures been taken after this accident to address the issue of wrong-wiring, the accident at BNBR (Bahanaga Bazar) would not have taken place,” says page 38 of the Report of Inquiry in the Accident on 02 06 23 at BNBR-PART-II.

Wrong signals

The report confirms that the accident happened exactly as Frontline reported it: the Coromandel Express train 12841 hit the stationary freight train on the loop line at full speed (which means that the train did not derail ahead of hitting the freight train), and the last two coaches of the Coromandel Express fell onto the Yesvantpur Express train (12864).

“The rear collision was due to lapses in the signalling-circuit-alteration carried out at the North Signal Goomty of the station in the past and during the execution of the signalling work relating to the replacement of the electric lifting barrier for level crossing gate No.94 at the station. These lapses resulted in wrong signalling of the train 12841, wherein the ‘UP’ home signal indicated the green aspect for the run-through movement on the UP mainline of the station, but the crossover connecting the UP main line to the UP loop line was set to the UP loop line. The wrong signalling resulted in the train 12841 traversing the UP loop line and eventually rear-colliding with the goods train,” the report says.

The report notes that two other trains passed by the same UP line between 3.05 pm and 4.04 pm and adds that there was no problem in this operation because the crossover (to the loop line) was set to reverse from normal by initiation of the signal route for the UP line at 4.09 pm. After the reception of the train, this was released at 4.13 pm. After this too, one train passed via the UP mainline, and another was received and detained at the UP loop line. In the case of the Coromandel Express, the inquiry report says that from the statements of all stakeholders, it was clear that the signal was set for the UP main line, but the train entered the loop line.

Hence, the report concluded that the cause of the accident was not due to “any defect of track or rolling stock [coaches, engine, etc.].” Additionally, the speedometer reading of the Coromandel Express, dropping from 128 kmph to zero abruptly, can only indicate that the train did not derail before it hit the goods train. In fact, it is proof that the train travelled on the loop line and hit the goods train at that speed. “A derailment before the collision would result in a reduction of speed”.

One important point that the report makes relates to the impracticality of the job at hand. “A glance at the as-made diagrams would reveal that the wiring-diagram of the LC-79 [level crossing gate] could not be implemented in toto, and a lot of alterations had to be done to suit the site conditions which should not have been left to the discretion of the field-supervisors,” the report pointed out.

Regardless of the issues that the report points out, it appears that the Railway administration has already moved on, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi flagging off five Vande Bharat trains last week. Meanwhile, in Balasore, more than 80 of the dead bodies from the train accident remain to be identified.

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