‘Human error’ led to Balasore train tragedy

Context : 

The report to the Railway Minister and Railway Board states that the triple-train crash on June 2 was caused by errors in the signalling circuit modification performed at the Bahanaga Bazaar station, which led to the erroneous signal being given to the Coromandel Express.

What is the background of the tragic incident?

  • Details of the Accident: Two express trains and a goods train were involved in the accident, which happened in the Balasore district of Odisha. The Yashwantpur-Howrah Express’s two carriages derailed close to the Bahanaga train station, colliding with the Coromandel Express as it approached. As a result, roughly 17 coaches derailed, some of which collided with a freight train’s waggons.
  • Casualties: Over 350 people were hurt in the collision, and at least 70 passengers were thought dead. As victims were being pulled out from under the derailed carriages, it was anticipated that the death toll would grow.
  • Earlier Mishap: This mishap was rated as one of the worst in recent memory. It is mentioned that the Coromandel Express also experienced an accident in 2013, which occurred in the Jajpur district, around 50 kilometres from the current disaster scene.
  • Government Response: The Odisha government deployed multiple teams, including senior Secretaries and a Minister, to manage the situation. Doctors from neighbouring districts and premier medical colleges were mobilized to provide medical assistance to the injured.
  • Assistance and Reactions: Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee expressed grief over the accident. The Railways Minister announced compensation for the deceased and injured. Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M.K. Stalin dispatched a team to aid Tamils affected by the accident and promised necessary assistance.
  • Coordination: To coordinate with railway officials and the Odisha government in providing rescue and relief to the affected passengers, the West Bengal government dispatched a delegation consisting of a Minister and an MP.

What were the findings of investigations of the tragic incident?

  • Train collision in Balasore: On June 2, a train crashed in Balasore, tragically killing 291 people and injuring over 900 others.
  • Duty of the S&T Department: The railway system’s Signal and Telecommunication (S&T) division was held primarily accountable for the collision.
  • Human Error: The accident was deemed to be the result of “human error” and mistakes made by the S&T division.
  • Alteration of the signalling circuit Failures: The signalling-circuit modification work that was done at the north signal goomty of the Bahanaga Bazaar station in the past had lapses that led to the crash. The goomty is a cabin that houses railroad machinery.
  • Execution Errors: The crash was also brought on by errors in the signalling work that was being done to replace an electric lifting barrier at the level crossing gate 94.
  • Maintenance timings: Repairs were completed on time, with a reconnection memo being provided at 4.50 p.m. on the day of the accident after a disconnection notice for repairs was issued at around 4.20 p.m. But even after reconnecting, S&T personnel continued to work on the signal circuit.
  • Wrong Signalling and Collision: Train 12841 (Shalimar-Chennai Coromandel Express) received a green signal for a run-through movement on the UP postal line due to the errors, which led to a collision. The train, however, travelled on the UP loop line since the crossover 17 A/B was set to the loop line. As a result, Train 12864 Yeshwantpur-Howrah Express was rear-ended by a goods train, which caused it to crash and derailed.
  • Submission of a report: A.M. Chowdhary, the South Eastern Circle Commissioner of Railway Safety, investigated the incident and delivered a 40-page report to the Railway Board, the Director-General of Safety, and the office of Railway Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw.

How to prevent further tragedies from happening?

  • Past Incident and Recommendations: The study referred to a comparable incident that occurred in May 2022 at the Bankranayabaz railway station, underlining the fact that corrective actions taken in the wake of that occurrence would have prevented the Balasore catastrophe. 
  • Commissioner’s Recommendations: The Commissioner made several recommendations, including updating wiring diagrams for completion signalling and other documents, adhering to best practices for signalling-modification work, performing functional tests before alterations, using approved circuit diagrams during modifications, deploying a separate team for testing modified circuits, and issuing competency certificates for signalling modification work.
  • Regular Inspections & Maintenance: Ensure that the infrastructure, including the trains, tracks, signals, and other components, is regularly inspected and well-maintained. This includes looking for any mechanical issues, worn-out components, or other dangers.
  • Advanced signalling Systems: Implement cutting-edge signalling technologies, such as automated train control (ATC) or positive train control (PTC) systems. These innovations can control speed, monitor train movement, and avoid collisions.
  • Training and Education: Make sure operators and maintenance staff are well-versed with safety standards, emergency procedures, and best practices by offering comprehensive training programmes.
  • Regulations and Compliance for Safety: Enforce stringent safety rules and make sure that all parties, such as train drivers, maintenance workers, and railway authorities, abide by them. Any safety hazards can be found and fixed with the help of routine audits and inspections.
  • Risk evaluation and mitigation: To identify possible dangers and create mitigation methods, conduct detailed risk assessments. This entails researching variables like the weather, the state of the tracks, and train congestion.