An official investigation into a railway accident in India is focusing on suspected manual override of an automated signaling system directing the movement of trains, three Indian Railways sources told Reuters, an action that investigators believe sent an overcrowded express train into a stationary freight train.

Commission for Railway Safety (CRS) investigators suspect the overtaking was done by railway workers to get around signaling obstacles that originated from a malfunctioning bollard used to stop road traffic at a nearby railroad crossing, two of the three sources said.

The sources did not want to be identified because they are not authorized to speak to the media.

The June 2 crash at Pahanaga Bazar station, in Balasore district of eastern India’s Odisha state, killed at least 288 people and injured more than 1,000. This was India’s worst railway accident in two decades.

Indian and international media reported earlier that a possible malfunction in the automated signaling system may have led to the crash.

However, Reuters first reported details of frequent malfunctions at a nearby rail road barrier and its possible connection to a manual override of the signaling system.

CRS, India’s railway safety authority, did not respond to a request for comment.

“wrong barrier”

Indian Railways, the fourth largest train network in the world, is a state monopoly run by the Railways Board. The council reports to the Ministry of Railways.

An Indian Railways spokesperson said that “repair work is continuing as per requirements” but that tampering with the automated system is not allowed.

Amitabh Sharma, chief information officer of the Ministry of Railways, said the cause of the accident was still under investigation. Asked about investigators’ suspicions that the electronic system may have been bypassed manually, Sharma said: “This is all speculation which we cannot confirm at this point.”

A spokesman for the Federal Police’s Central Bureau of Investigation, which has opened a separate investigation into possible criminal negligence, did not respond to a request for comment.

Reuters He spoke to five residents of Bahanaga village who said the barrier at the railway crossing had been faulty for nearly three months and was repeatedly repaired.

Residents said that when there was a malfunction, the barrier would still be stuck in the closed position and had to be manually opened by railway workers.

A retired Indian Railways official said that if the barrier was open, the automated signaling system would not allow the train to pass through the rail road crossing. The official did not wish to be identified due to the sensitivity of the investigation into the incident.

Sometimes the electric barrier went up and sometimes it didn’t,” said Subhagya Ranjan Sarangi, a pharmacist who owns a shop near the railway crossing.

Niranjan Sarangi, a 66-year-old retired teacher who spends many evenings sitting near the crossing with friends, was there at the time of the accident. He said the barrier seemed to be working fine at the time.

The barrier may get stuck sometimes. He pointed out that “the personnel of the department will come and fix the matter.”

System “changed manually”

One of the three Indian Railways sources – all of whom are aware of the ongoing CRS investigation – said the initial investigation indicated that the automatic electronic signaling system was “changed manually, as the software had to be tampered with”.

The second source, who has access to briefings on the investigation, said: “The (Indian) Railways company believes that the system has been tampered with. It is not yet ascertained whether the interference was deliberate or accidental or whether it was due to work taking place near the signal. “

The third source said that the initial investigation indicated that the signaling system had been bypassed because repair workers were trying to fix the broken barrier.

India’s rail network is undergoing a $30 billion transformation with flashy new trains and modern stations as Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s drive to boost infrastructure and connectivity.

The June 2 incident raised questions about whether safety was being given enough attention. The government said that safety indicators have improved over the years, accident rates have decreased, and safety is getting enough money.

The accident occurred when the Coromandel Express, bound for the southern city of Chennai from the eastern city of Kolkata, mistakenly entered a side track of the station at a speed of 128 km/h (80 mph), and collided with a stationary iron ore freight train. .

The Coromandel Express jumped off the tracks and fell after the collision. Some of its coaches hit another express train passing on a parallel track in the opposite direction, causing that train to also jump off the tracks and create a massive wreck.

Two days after the accident, Jaya Varma Sinha, a member of the Railways Board, told reporters that it appeared the electronic signaling system, called the “interlocking system”, had sent the Coromandel Express into the wrong lane by giving it a green signal.

The Indian Railways’ third source said the CRS results now indicated that the system, which Sinha said was supposed to be “fail-safe”, was compromised by workers trying to find a workaround.

Sinha did not respond to a Reuters request for an update on the investigation.

Sandeep Mathur, chief executive officer of signaling at Indian Railways and the chief officer responsible for signaling, did not respond to Reuters requests for information about the supplier of the interlocking system.


He was unable to independently verify the identity of the supplier or verify Sinha’s claim of being fail-safe.

‘Manual intervention is not unusual’

The interlocking system coordinates the semaphore, trackway and track occupancy, ensuring they all work in tandem to take the train safely through the station, Mathur told reporters two days after the accident.

He did not respond to subsequent Reuters requests for more details.

The third railway source, as well as a retired railway official and a senior police officer who worked for the Odisha Railway Police, told Reuters that sometimes railway workers manually intervene in the system to change the signal so that railway traffic does not slow or stop. While they are doing any repair and maintenance work, especially on busy roads.

The retired official and the police officer did not want to be identified due to the sensitivity of the investigation into the incident.

Sudhanshu Mishra, another retired railway official who worked for the safety department, said manual dissolution is permitted under railway protocols if it is authorized by an authorized senior official, and all precautions are in place.

The Indian Railways spokesperson did not directly address the licensing issue and only said that it was not permitted under the Indian Railways rules.

Reuters It could not be determined whether the suspected solution on the evening of the crash was authorized or not.

A Railway Council circular on June 8 on “track safety” sent to all directors general of Indian Railways, seen by Reuters, said workers “should be advised and instructed not to take any shortcuts while carrying out work”.

The controls of the interlocking system are housed inside a small railway building at Bahanaga Bazar station and access is restricted to authorized railway workers and officials.

The second source said records showed that the Bahanaga system control room was accessed twice that evening the first time for authorized operational work, while the reason for the second visit has yet to be determined.

Reuters He was unable to access those records.

The second and third sources said all railway staff at the station, including those who were involved in the barrier repair work, have been questioned by railway investigators and will also be questioned by the CBI.

They declined to be named as this is an ongoing investigation. Reuters could not independently confirm the number of workers under investigation or their identities.

(This story was not edited by the News18 staff and was published from a syndicated news agency feed – Reuters)


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *