• Wednesday, October 04, 2023

India train crash: Services resume as officials indicate ‘sabotage’

Probe begins into tragedy; toll revised down to 275

By: Chandrashekar Bhat

PASSENGER and freight trains were running again on Monday (5) at the site of India’s deadliest train disaster in decades, which the railway officials blamed on possible “sabotage” and tampering with the electronic system.

An investigation has been opened into the three-train crash near Balasore in the eastern state of Odisha after railway minister Ashwini Vaishnaw said the “root cause” of the accident and the people behind the “criminal” act had been identified.

Officials initially reported the death toll as 288, but the Odisha state government has since revised the number to 275 after some bodies were mistakenly counted twice.

Of the 1,175 injured, 382 were still being treated in hospital, authorities said on Sunday (4).

However, many fear the death toll could still rise with medical centres overwhelmed by the number of casualties, many in serious condition.

Green netting was erected on either side of the tracks, shielding the crumpled carriages, which had been pushed down the embankment, from the view of travelling passengers.

Vaishnaw was seen folding his hands in prayer as he saw the first train cross the site of the disaster late on Sunday.

The railways ministry said the first train, a goods train loaded with coal, started 51 hours after the crash.

It was not immediately clear if all the tracks had been fully repaired, with trains on Monday using only lines on one side.

Friday’s tragedy took place after the Coromandal Express, running south from Kolkata to Chennai, ran onto a side track. It slammed into a freight train and the wreckage derailed an express running north from Bengaluru to Kolkata.

Vaishnaw said the crash happened due to the “change that occurred during electronic interlocking”, referring to a technical term for a complex signal system designed to stop trains colliding by arranging their movement on the tracks.

“Whoever did it, and how it happened, will be found out after a proper investigation,” he said.

Prime minister Narendra Modi visited the crash site and injured passengers in hospital on Saturday and said “no one responsible” would be spared.

Some 120 km (75 miles) north, at Kharagpur, in West Bengal state, railway officials and witnesses gathered to submit evidence to a two-day inquiry, led by AM Chowdhary, commissioner of railway safety for the south-eastern circle.

“Several officials and witnesses have joined the inquiry. The inquiry is underway,” a senior railway officer said, as officials checked documents being submitted for examination.

A few trains on the crash section remained cancelled on Monday, but the Chennai-bound Coromandel Express will resume its journey at 2.50 pm local time. (0920 GMT) for the first time after Friday’s accident, a railways spokesperson said.

“Passenger occupancy is almost 99 per cent,” Aditya Chaudhary, chief public relations officer of South Eastern Railway, said.

World leaders have expressed grief over the tragedy, with US president Joe Biden saying he was heartbroken by the crash.

“(First Lady Dr) Jill (Biden) and I are heartbroken by the tragic news of the deadly train crash in India. Our prayers go out to those who have lost loved ones and the many who suffered injuries in this terrible incident,” he said in a statement.

“The United States and India share deep bonds rooted in the ties of family and culture that unite our two nations and people all across America mourn alongside the people of India. As the recovery effort continues, we will hold the people of India in our thoughts,” Biden said

British prime minister Rishi Sunak sent a message of support to Modi. “My thoughts and prayers are with @NarendraModi and with all affected by the tragic events in Odisha,” Sunak tweeted.

“My deepest condolences to the family and friends of those killed, and my heartfelt support and admiration to the survivors and those working tirelessly to respond,” he said.

Lord Tariq Ahmad, the UK Foreign Office Minister for South Asia who returned from a visit to India, also took to social media over the weekend to express his solidarity.

“Distressing scenes and reports from #OdishaTrainAccident in #India which has already claimed the lives of close to 300 people and with many injured. Our thoughts and prayers are with all those impacted as well as the emergency teams working on this tragic accident,” tweeted Lord Ahmad.

The Indian High Commission in London on Saturday cancelled a special reception planned for the visiting Indian cricket team in the UK for the World Test Championship final against Australia starting next week.


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