In a shocking revelation, it has come to light that the lives of approximately 300 innocent passengers on board a train could have been saved, and the Balasore train accident could have been averted if the railway authorities had taken a safety note seriously. The note, written by a senior operations department official of the South Western Railway (SWR) on February 9, 2023, highlighted a grave flaw in the railway's safety system.
Similar problem had occurred in February this year
The incident drew attention to a similar problem that had occurred on February 8, 2023 at the Hosadurga Road station in Birur-Chikjajur section of the Mysore division of SWR. Fortunately, due to the alertness of the train driver and the low speed of the train, a potential collision was avoided. However, that incident should have served as a wake-up call for the railway authorities to address the underlying safety issue. But, no one in the top echelons of the railways took note of the missive.
Safety note specifically mentions Bahanaga station yard layout
The safety note specifically mentioned that the Bahanaga station yard layout was almost identical to the Hosadurga Road station layout. On February 8, 2023 the Karnataka Sampark Kranti Express was given a signal to proceed, but the point was wrongly set towards the down line, on which track a goods train was approaching . However, because of the quick thinking on the part of the Karnataka Sampark Kranti driver prevented a disaster by stopping the train before entering the wrong track.
Expressing concern over that incident, the SWR's operations department wrote a detailed letter to the general manager of SWR, emphasising the flaws in the system and the disregard for basic principles of interlocking. The letter raised questions about how an electronic signal maintenance staffer could alter the interlocking without opening the relay room in violation of clear guidelines from the Railway Board.
Flaws highlighted in the letter
The letter highlighted the vulnerability of the signaling cables, which are often brought to a junction box in the yard before being routed to the Relay Room. "This setup makes it susceptible to meddling and interference with the interlocking system. The operations department stressed the need for immediate corrective actions, including sensitizing staff to avoid shortcuts that could lead to major mishaps" read the letter.
The letter warned that if the signal maintenance system is not promptly monitored and corrected, similar incidents and serious accidents are likely to occur in the future. Its seems railway authorities not taken seriously that safety note. "The negligence displayed in Odisha incident raises serious concerns about the safety protocols followed by the railway authorities" said a retired officer of Indian Railways.
"The need is to fix accountability. Passengers' safety should be accorded top priority," he added.
Negligence of staff and administration: Railway activist
Pointing out the negligence of staff and administration behind several incidents that happened in recent past, railway activist Samir Zaveri said, " According to the commissioner of railway safety website, the percentage of train accidents, attributable to error in working by railway staff was 64.91% in the year 2019-20 against 61.90% during the year 2018-19. The error caused due to human failure, comprising both railway staff as well as other than railway staff such as road users, passengers, miscreants etc. was responsible for 80.7% of train accidents in the year 2019-20 against 88.89% during the year 2018-19." Zaveri himself is a victim of a rail accident in which he lost both his legs.