Diversion of passenger train to loop line meant that there was no time for anti-collision technology to have deployed as passenger train decelerated from 128 kmph to zero in a matter of seconds on hitting iron ore-laden freighter
Restoration work at the site of Friday’s triple train accident near Bahanaga Bazar railway station, in Balasore district, Odisha, on Sunday. Pic/PTI
Government officials have claimed that Kavach—an anti-collision device being developed since 2012 and rolled out last year—would not have prevented the loss of 275 lives in the Odisha train accident. A retired railway official also believes the technology wouldn’t have stopped the tragedy, as the Express train had a signal for the main line. The goods train, with which it collided, was standing on the adjacent track.
The government said on Sunday that Coromandel Express, which was coming at a speed of 128 kmph, moved the loop line due to a last-minute diversion and rammed into a goods train laden with iron ore. While the heavy freighter absorbed did not move an inch, Coromandel Express bore all the burnt and derailed. The train came to a halt in a matter of just 23 seconds, according to records.
Children pay tributes to the victims of Balasore train accident, in Kolkata, on Sunday. Pic/PTI
The Ministry of Railways has recommended an investigation by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), suspecting tampering with the interlocking system that causes the tracks to switch. The Opposition has claimed that Kavach or Train Collision Avoidance System (TCAS) could have been averted had the government been swift in installing the device. While the development started in 2012, the device was rolled out last year for trials and the railways has reportedly said that it will be installed on trains next year.
What is Kavach
Research Design and Standards Organisation (RDSO), along with Indian Original Equipment Manufacturers, has developed Kavach by incorporating key characteristics of European Train Control System and Indian anti-collision device. Kavach is fitted on trains and tracks. The device activates the braking system automatically by sending radio signals if the loco pilot (engine driver) fails to control the train as per the aspect of the signal and if it violates the set speed restriction on tracks. It works in the range of 500 metre, in order to cover the braking distance.
The system prevents collisions between trains equipped with a functional Kavach system. An SOS message can be relayed during emergency situations. There is also auto whistling of locomotives while approaching level crossing gates and centralised live monitoring of train movements is possible through the network monitor system of Kavach.
NDRF personnel help during the restoration work at the site of accident, in Balasore district, Odisha, on Sunday. Pic/PTI
Kavach is already functioning on 1,455 route km on South Central Railway and tenders have been awarded on 2,951 route km on Delhi-Mumbai and Delhi-Howrah sections. This is targeted for commissioning in 2024. It has also been sanctioned on 35,736 route km of High Density Network and High Utilised Network of the Indian Railways.
‘It wouldn’t have helped’
“However, in the case of the Odisha accident, Kavach would not have been useful, as the reaction time and the distance were too less. It was like a rock dropping on a fast-moving object,” said Jaya Varma Sinha, a member of Operation and Business Development, Railway Board. She added that there is a possibility that “someone has done some digging without seeing the cables.”
An official said, “Prima facie, it seems to be a fault of the signalling system (a matter of investigation by the Commissioner of Railway Safety, a statutory independent body under Ministry of Civil Aviation) as the train was diverted on a wrong track at the last minute due to possible error.”
“The exact reason for the accident is a matter of investigation. Prima facie, the mainline train Coromandel Express entered the loop line at 128 kmph on which freighter was standing which led to everything. Primary indications are towards a possible error in the track point, but the matter is being investigated on how it all happened and if some maintenance work had been happening there earlier or any other reason,” he added.
However, a retired railway official does not believe that digging would have any impact on Kavach. Although, he said, the device would not have prevented the accident, as the goods train was standing on the adjacent track and the signal was set for the main line.
“Digging of any kind or cutting of cables etc. will not affect the functionality of Kavach as it works on radio waves. Kavach devices placed on tracks and locos are tamper proof and if any attempt is made to tamper with them, it gives out alerts as basically, it is a fail-safe mechanism, which means if anything fails, all signals go red, making all trains stop where they are,” he said.
“It is complex to understand these workings due to multiple aspects and should be left to investigators. What actually happened was that the switch wasn’t correctly set and it did not reflect on the relay panel in the first place, where the glitch lies. What happened is called interlocking failure,” he added.
What happened, according to the govt
Train 1: Shalimar-Chennai 12841 Coromandel Express, a 23-car train, at 128 kmph, passing through Up main line hits a freight train after entering a loop line at Bahanaga Bazar railway station
Train 2: Iron ore-loaded train on the Up loop line stood firm
Train 3: Coaches of derailed Coromandel train were hit by last two coaches of Yeshwantpur Exp SMV-Bengaluru-Howrah passing at 126 kmph, through Down line
Train 4: Stationary freight train on Down loop line was hit and a few coaches derailed
Time in which train went from 128 kmph to 0