The root cause of the three-train crash in Odisha's Balasore district and the people responsible for it have been identified, Railway Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw said on Sunday as rescue work at the site of the accident ended with the Railways aiming to restore normal services on the affected tracks in the next few days.
As the tragedy triggered a debate over the Kavach anti-collision system, the Congress demanded the resignation of the railway minister and asked when will the Modi government implement the much-hyped system nationwide, after testing.
Vaishnaw maintained that the train crash had nothing to do with the Kavach system.
The change that was done to electronic interlocking which led to the accident has been identified, Vaishnaw, who has been camping at the site of the train accident along with Union Minister Dharmendar Pradhan, said.
He said the issue is of electric point machine, a vital device for railway signalling, and electronic interlocking.
"The setting of the point machine was changed. How and why it was done will be revealed in the probe report," he told PTI.
"The root cause of the horrifying incident has been identified... I do not want to go into details. Let the report come out. I will just say that the root cause and the people responsible have been identified," the railway minister said
An electric point machine is a vital device for railway signalling for quick operation and locking of point switches and plays an important role in the safe running of trains.
Failure of these machines severely affects train movement and deficiencies at the time of installation can result in unsafe conditions.
The crash involving Bengaluru-Howrah Superfast Express and Shalimar-Chennai Central Coromandel Express, which were carrying around 2,500 passengers, and a goods train occurred around 7 pm on Friday near the Bahanaga Bazar station in Balasore.
At least 275 people were dead and over 1,100 injured in the accident, the worst rail accident in India in nearly three decades.
With hospitals around the accident site trying to deal with the enormity of the tragedy, a team of doctors and experts from the AIIMS Delhi and other central hospitals of the national capital were rushed to Bhubaneswar through a special IAF flight.
The team is carrying medicines and heavy critical care equipment, official sources said.
Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik on Sunday spoke to Prime Minister Narendra Modi over the phone and briefed him about the latest situation.
Noting that doctors, medical students and other health care service providers are doing their best, Patnaik told the prime minister that all possible steps have been taken to save the lives of injured passengers in different hospitals of Odisha.
The prime minister thanked the chief minister, the Odisha government for the prompt and efficient action during the crisis. The Centre is ready to provide any kind of assistance if required, a release issued by CMO said quoting the prime minister.
The prime minister also praised the people of Odisha for the kind of support and timely help in this hour of crisis.
Both the PM and Patnaik visited the train accident site at Bahanga Bazar in Balasore district on Saturday.
Patnaik also announced an ex-gratia of Rs 5 lakh to the family members of the people from the state killed in the triple train accident.
Giving details of the rescue operation, Pradhan said the rescue work is over and we are working with the local administration to send people affected back home.
He also said that the big challenge is to restore tracks so that the railway link between two important wings of the country can start functioning.
"By Tuesday we should be able to do it," the minister said.
A senior railway official at the site said, "We have teams working round-the-clock. Restoring at least two lines -up and down - is absolutely essential as quickly as possible,"
"Restoration work on tracks is on. We are also working on overhead cables and masts which were uprooted soon the down line will be restored and then the up line, the official said.
Railway officials said that all 21 coaches which capsized due to the derailment of trains at Bahanaga Bazar station have been grounded. Now the site is being cleared.
"Further three wagons and the locomotive upper part will be grounded," the official said, adding that a special train will start from Bhadrak at 1 pm on Sunday and will run up to Chennai in the path of 12841 Coromandel Express.
It will have stoppages at Cuttack, Bhubaneswar and all other stoppages of 12841 Coromandel Express. Stranded passengers of the train accident and their relatives can avail of the train service, he said.
Vaishnaw also said the kin of around 300 accident victims have been provided compensation.
"We met the patients and doctors at Soro Hospital. Special trains are being run from Hyderabad, Chennai, Bengaluru, Ranchi, Kolkata and other places so that patients can reach homes after treatment."
Restoration work, he said, was being carried out on a war footing and tracks have already been laid on one of the main lines.
"We have mobilised all resources. I also want to say that Kavach has nothing to do with the accident. This accident occurred due to changes to the electronic interlocking system. The remarks of (West Bengal chief minister) Mamata Banerjee are not true," Vaishnaw said.
The West Bengal chief minister on Saturday said the triple train accident was the biggest of the century and a proper investigation was needed to unravel the truth.
Banerjee, who has been the Railway minister twice, said the crash could have been averted had the anti-collision system was operational on this route.
At a press conference in Delhi, the Congress demanded the resignation of Vaishnaw, alleging that his 'PR gimmicks' overshadowed the 'serious deficiencies, criminal negligence and complete disregard for safety and security' of Indian Railways.
The Opposition party also said that Prime Minister Modi should accept part of the responsibility of the 'mess' which his government has inflicted on the Indian Railways and the people.
Congress MP Shaktisinh Gohil and All India Congress Committee's publicity and media department head Pawan Khera alleged that the Odisha rail tragedy was a 'man-made devastation' caused by 'utter negligence, serious lapses in the system, incompetence, and a narcissistic sense of know-it-all attitude of the Modi government'.
Prime Minister Modi, who has announced that the guilty would be punished, must first start with his Railway Minister, Khera said.
"Unequivocally and unambiguously we demand the resignation of the Union Railway Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw. Nothing short of it," he said.
They alleged that Vaishnaw's 'over the top publicity, theatrics and PR gimmicks overshadowed the serious deficiencies, criminal negligence and complete disregard for safety and security of Indian Railways'.
'PM Modi, himself is responsible for a green-flagging spree of Vande Bharat Express trains. He himself is responsible for creating this 'all is well' facade in the Indian Railways, even as crucial, sensitive, and critical infrastructure of the Indian Railway languishes in neglect,' Gohil and Khera said in their statement.
"We demand that despite multiple warnings by the CAG, Parliamentary Standing Committees, and experts why did the Modi government not spend on sprucing up Railway Safety?" they said.
The Congress leaders also asked when will the Modi government implement the much-hyped Kavach Anti-Collision system nationwide after testing.
Gohil and Khera asked when will the government pump more funds in the Rashtriya Rail Sanraksha Kosh (RRSK) and fill up the three lakh plus vacant positions in the Indian Railways.
Rajya Sabha MP Kapil Sibal also attacked the government over the railway tragedy, and said one minister cannot deal with large ministries such as Railways as well as Communications, Electronics and Information Technology, as was being done by Vaishnaw.
The triple train pile-up near Balasore on Friday disrupted passenger and goods traffic between important industrial centres.
Many of the patients initially admitted to Balasore and other local hospitals have been released or shifted to bigger cities with multi-speciality hospitals including Cuttack, Bhubaneswar and Kolkata.
Most of the bodies have been shifted to a facility in Bhubaneswar, said hospital administrators.