Investigation Commences into India’s Deadliest Rail Crash in 20 Years as Train Services Resume

The official investigation into India’s most devastating rail accident in two decades has initiated following preliminary findings that suggest signal failure as the probable cause of the collision. The tragic incident claimed the lives of at least 275 individuals and left nearly 1,200 others injured.

The calamity unfolded on Friday when a passenger train collided with a stationary freight train, resulting in derailment and subsequent collision with another passenger train traveling in the opposite direction near Balasore district in the eastern state of Odisha.

After relentless efforts to rescue survivors and restore the track, passenger and freight trains have resumed operations on the affected section of the rail line as of Sunday night. Trains now pass by the wreckage of mangled carriages from the Friday night crash, with green netting installed to shield the crumpled coaches, which had been pushed down the embankment, from the view of passengers.

Late on Sunday, Railway Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw witnessed the first train crossing the disaster site, offering prayers as a gesture of reverence. The railway department confirmed that a coal-laden goods train became the first to traverse the area, commencing 51 hours after the collision. However, it remains unclear if all tracks have been completely repaired, as trains on Monday are operating only on one side.

A railway official stated, “Trains are required to control their speed and proceed slowly for a certain distance.” The initial death toll was reported as 288 but was revised down to 275 by the Odisha government on Sunday, attributing the discrepancy to double-counting of bodies.

As of Sunday, at least 382 injured individuals continue to receive medical treatment in hospitals. Concerns persist that the death toll may rise further due to the overwhelming number of casualties, many of whom are in critical condition.

While the precise sequence of events on Friday remains somewhat unclear, railway officials cited a signaling error as the cause that led the Coromandel Express, traveling from Kolkata to Chennai, to divert onto a side track. The train, traveling at a speed of 128 km/h (80 mph), collided with a freight train, causing the wreckage to derail the Yesvantpur-Howrah train heading in the opposite direction, from Bengaluru, India’s tech hub, to Kolkata.

On Sunday, Minister Vaishnaw attributed the crash to a “change that occurred during electronic interlocking,” referring to a technical term for a sophisticated signal system designed to prevent train collisions by coordinating their movements on the tracks. He assured the public that a thorough investigation would reveal those responsible and shed light on the circumstances surrounding the incident.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the crash site on Saturday and met with injured passengers in the hospital. He pledged that no one accountable would escape justice.

Meanwhile, at Kharagpur, approximately 120 kilometers (75 miles) north in West Bengal state, railway officials and witnesses convened to present evidence for a two-day inquiry led by A M Chowdhary, commissioner of railway safety for the southeastern circle.

The Railway Board, the top governing body, has recommended that the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) assume control of the investigation to determine the cause of the disaster.

Minister Vaishnaw emphasized the need for normalization, stating, “We have to move towards normalcy… Our responsibility is not yet fulfilled.”

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