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'Railways is known for covering up accidents'

June 05, 2023 07:42 IST
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'Imagine what will happen when a train running at 128 kmph moves onto a track that is meant to have only a speed less than 30 kmph!'
'Naturally, it will derail, and the coaches will go for a tailspin.'

IMAGE: The site where the Coromandel, Bengaluru-Howrah Express trains derailed, in Odisha's Balasore district, June 3, 2023. Photograph: PTI Photo

The three-train collision in Odisha on the June 2, 2023 killing 288 people and injuring more than 900, is the worst train accident this century.

Who is at fault?

S Pushpavanam, secretary of the Trichy-based Consumer Protection Council, a voluntary consumer rights organisation founded as a consumer movement in 1974, is a long-time crusader for rail safety.

"The body of the driver was thrown off due to the impact of the collision. So, it will be very convenient to put all the blame on the driver." Pushpavanam tells's Shobha Warrier.


IMAGE: The engine of one of the two express trains after crashing into a goods train wagon following the triple collision in Balasore district, June 2, 2023. Photograph: PTI Photo

The morning after the gruesome train accident, reports said that a couple of coaches of the Bengaluru Howrah Express derailed at 6.55 pm and the Coromandel Express crashed into the derailed coaches at 7 pm.
Now, the initial investigations say that the Coromandel Express erroneously entered the loop line and crashed into the stationery goods train, and it was a human error.
Do you think they are trying to find a scapegoat?

They often do that.

Yes, the goods train was there in the loop line. And the Coromandel Express should have gone to the main line. But the signal was turned to the loop line from the main line, which rarely happens. It means it was a purely technical error.

The Coromandel Express was coming at a speed of 128 kmph and the speed at which you can take the curve that takes you to the loop line should not exceed 30 kmph.

Imagine what will happen when a train running at 128 kmph moves onto a track that is meant to have only a speed less than 30 kmph! Naturally, it will derail, and the coaches will go for a tailspin.

Why was it said initially that the Bengaluru Howrah Express came first at 6.55 pm and the Coromandel Express came at 7 pm? Now it says the Coromandel Express came first.

Yes, a lot of contradictory information is coming out.

Did you see any quotes from the driver or the guard?

The Indian Express now reports that the body of the driver was found near a house near the station. He was thrown off due to the impact of the collision.

So, it will be very convenient for them to put all the blame on the driver.

IMAGE: The search and rescue operation. Photograph: PTI Photo


See, even if the point has been set to the loop line, there was no way the driver of the Coromandel Express could stop the train at that speed.

The train was not supposed to stop at the station too, so he will assume that the train was going on the main line.

And the poor guard was 24 coaches away. He is not to be blamed. And the driver is dead.

According to me, it is purely a technical error. There is no cause for human error.

If it is a technical error, whose fault is it?

It shows the signals were not maintained properly.

So, the blame should fall on the maintenance department, the telecommunication department...

The station master can only press the button. He is not a technical person. Of course, he should have been careful.

The GM should be sacked. Only then, things will be alright.

You should also know that there is inter-departmental rivalry in the Railways.

IMAGE: An aerial view of the accident site. Photograph: PTI Photo


Yes, there is a lack of coordination between the mechanical department, the electrical department, the electronics signal department, the telecommunications department, etc.

They have a grouse that the mechanical department dominates.

I am not saying this. All the Railway committee reports mention this.

This should stop first. Only then we will know the truth.

Remember the Peruman train accident of 1988 where the entire train fell into the Ashtamudi lake.

They blamed it on a tornado that nobody saw or felt! There was a slight drizzle there at that time, but the Railways said a tornado came and that was how the train fell into the lake.

It was a track failure, but it was alleged that the mechanical department removed all the evidence.

Finally, the Railways managed to hush it up saying an imaginary tornado came.

What I mean is, the Railways is known for covering up accidents.

Normally the Railway Safety Commission enquires.

Do you know it is attached to the ministry of civil Aviation? But all the people in the Railway Safety Commission are ex-Railwaymen or men on deputation. They never let down their colleagues.

So, what we need is an independent Railway Safety Commission consisting of non-Railway men. Only then we will know the real cause of accidents.

IMAGE: Restoration work underway at the accident site. Photograph: ANI Photo

Another debate that is going on now is about the kavach. Do you think the kavach would have averted this accident?

Kavach is supposed to prevent head-on-collision when two trains are on the same track. In this situation, how can a kavach help?

How do you negotiate a train coming at 128 kmph on a track that can take only a speed of less than 30 kmph? What can a kavach do at that time?

Do you think lack of manpower is a reason for accidents? Some reports say the loco pilots are overworked...

Railway unions are very strong, and they will never let their people work long hours.

The fact is, Indian Railway is overstaffed! More than 57% of the Railways income goes towards salary and pension.

Do you know their operating ratio is 98%? To get Rs 100, they spend Rs 98! This is a great marker of inefficiency.

The US railway runs more kilometres than the Indian Railways, but their employee strength is one-tenth of ours!

I have been saying this for a long time.

We must keep a Black Box in the driver's car.

We must know the last words of the driver, the last communication he had and what had happened in the engine room.

When you can have a Black Box on an aircraft, why not on the trains? This is very important for safety.

Now, there is an absolute lack of accountability in the Railway.

IMAGE: An injured passenger being brought to hospital. Photograph: PTI Photo

You spoke about accountability. There was a time when a Railway minister, Lal Bahadur Shastri, resigned because of a train accident. Do you think the railway minister should take responsibility and be accountable for accidents?

Not only the minister, the chairman of the Railway Board, the GM, and the DRM.. all of them should be held accountable.

Lal Bahadur Shastri showed that he was accountable to the people. But over the years, the Railways preferred to cover up accidents than be accountable.

The Railway bogeys roll, but no Railway head rolls!

Is it ironic that when the prime minister inaugurates high-speed Vande Bharat trains all over the country, accidents like this happen?

Imagine, instead of the goods train, or instead of the Coromandel Express, had it been the high-speed Vande Bharat train or Bullet train running on the track, what would have happened?

Unless you have foolproof track and signal maintenance, you cannot run fast trains.

IMAGE: S Pushpavanam

Do you feel the need of the hour is taking care of safety first?

Absolutely. I have no problem if they introduce more fast trains, but simultaneously, they should be equally fast in maintaining safety.

It was reported that there were more consequential and non-consequential accidents in 2022-2023 than the previous year...

You should also note that the previous year was the time of the pandemic and not many trains were running! Because the trains were not running, safety figures were good.

Naturally, the Railways became complacent.

When small accidents happen, they do not get publicised often. The Railways must be more transparent.

The authorities must be made accountable.

Video: The scene of the accident Video: ANI

Feature Presentation: Rajesh Alva/

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