In India, official investigations into the train crash that occurred on Friday evening near the town of Balasore in the eastern state of Orissa have begun. The accident involved two passenger trains and a freight train, killing 275 people and over 800 injured.
The authorities have not yet indicated with certainty what caused the accident, but at the moment the most credible hypothesis is that of a malfunction in the signaling system and in the automated trading system, even if any other hypothesis, including those of the human error and sabotage, remains open.
The accident occurred when the Coromandel Express, a train traveling from Calcutta in West Bengal to Chennai in the state of Tamil Nadu, traveling at around 130 kilometers per hour collided with a freight train which was stationary in a small station where the passenger train was not supposed to stop. The freight train and the passenger train, going off the tracks, derailed another passenger train going in the opposite direction, the Howrah Superfast Express. The Coromandel Express carried 1,250 passengers, the Howrah Superfast Express 1,039: survivors said the trains had hundreds of workers and students traveling standing crowded together.
According to the first reconstructions, made by the local and international press on the basis of anonymous or unofficial statements by station workers and supervisory authorities, the train from Calcutta would have received a green light signal, would not have exceeded the permitted speed nor would it passed through a red light: for reasons to be established, however, he would have taken a siding on which the freight train was parked, causing the initial impact.
The tracks are managed by an automated switching system, which provides for further human control: in this case, an error considered by insiders to be “very rare” would have occurred which was not followed by a correction by the heads of switching monitoring and traffic lights.
Indian Railways Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw confirmed that the reasons for the failure of safety systems are being investigated. Not only those responsible for security would be investigated, but also the authorities who manage the nearby Bahananga station.
A few days later, with many of the bodies still without a certain identity, the political pressure to search for a culprit is considerable: the opposition has already asked for the minister’s resignation, while Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who in recent years he has publicized his government’s investments to improve the railway network, he has assured that anyone responsible “will be punished”. The investigations will be carried out by the Central Bureau of Investigation, the main Indian public investigation agency.
Initially it was reported that 288 people died in the accident, then the authorities revised the official number to 275: it remains the most serious accident since 1995, when more than 350 people died in the collision between two trains, not far from New Delhi .
Every day, around 22 million people travel on the 14,000 trains on India’s railway network, which has 64,000 kilometers of track and is one of the largest and busiest in the world. The network mostly dates back to the English colonial period: despite recent investments, the necessary interventions in terms of safety remain numerous and over 100 accidents are recorded every year. Deaths on the railway network numbered over 16,000 in 2021, most of them from falls from moving trains.