BALASORE, India (AP) — The derailment in eastern India that killed 275 people and injured hundreds of others was caused by an error in the electronic signaling system, which caused a train to accidentally derail and The accident occurred with a freight train, officials said on Sunday.
Officials work to clear the debris of two passenger trains that derailed in Balasore district of the eastern state of Odisha late Friday night. It was one of the deadliest train accidents in the country in decades.
The Odisha government in a statement put the revised death toll at 275, with a senior state official saying more than 300 people had died on Sunday morning. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to provide information to the press.
Jaya Verma Sinha, a senior railway official, said preliminary investigation indicated that the high-speed train Coromandel Express had received a signal to enter the main track. But the signal was later removed, and instead the train entered an adjacent branch track, where it collided with an iron-laden freight train. Following the collision, the coaches of the Coromandel Express overturned on another track, causing the oncoming Yesvantpur-Howrah Express to derail, resulting in a collision of three trains.
He said passenger trains carrying a total of 2,296 people were not moving. It is customary for freight trains to park on side tracks to clear the main route for other convoys.
Verma attributed the incident to a glitch in the electronic signaling system. He said a detailed probe would reveal whether the fault was human or technical.
The electronic system is a safety mechanism designed to prevent conflicting train movements. It also monitors the status of signals that tell drivers how far away the next train is, how fast they can go, and the presence of stopped trains on the tracks.
“The system is 99.9% error free. But there is always a margin of 0.1% error,” the official said. When asked whether the accident could be the result of sabotage, he replied that “nothing has been ruled out.”
On Sunday, only a few overturned and twisted wagons remained as a remnant of the accident. The railway workers were busy in the scorching sun setting concrete blocks and repairing broken tracks. A team with bulldozers was removing soil and debris to clear the site.
At a hospital some 15 kilometers (9 mi) from the scene, survivors told of the horror of the accident.
Inder Mahto, who worked at the warehouse, did not remember the exact incident, but said he heard a loud bang when the Coromandel Express collided with the goods train. Due to the impact, Mahto, who was in the bathroom, lost consciousness for a while.
After a while he opened his eyes and through the forced door he saw people moaning in pain and many already dead. Others were desperately trying to get out of the twisted wreckage of the wagon.
Mahto, 37, was trapped in the bathroom for hours but rescue workers managed to pull him out. His friends were not so lucky. Four of them died, he noted.
Meanwhile, many desperate people were having trouble identifying the bodies of their loved ones due to the brutal injuries. Others searched hospitals to see if their relatives were alive.
Outside the same hospital where Mahto was recuperating, Bulti Khatoon ran into trouble with the identity card of her husband, who was traveling on the Coromandel Express to the southern city of Chennai.
Khatoon said she went to the morgue and other hospitals to find him, but was unsuccessful.
“I’m helpless,” she said sobbing.
During the Saturday night, 15 bodies were recovered and work continued into the early morning, with giant cranes to remove a locomotive on top of a wagon. Sudhanshu Sarangi, director general of fire and emergency services in Odisha, said no body was found in the locomotive and the work was completed on Sunday morning.
The disaster came as Prime Minister Narendra Modi pushed to modernize India’s rail network, which dates back to British colonial times. India became the most populous country in the world this year with 1.420 million inhabitants.
Despite government actions to improve rail safety, hundreds of accidents occur every year on the country’s rail system, the world’s largest network running in a single direction.
Chaotic scenes unfolded on Friday night, with rescue workers climbing into damaged vehicles to open doors and windows with torches in an attempt to rescue those trapped inside.
Modi visited the disaster site on Saturday to discuss relief efforts and interact with rescue officials. He also visited a hospital where he asked the doctors about the care of the injured and spoke to some of the victims.
Most of the rail accidents in India are attributed to human error or outdated signaling equipment.
More than 12 million people travel daily in the country on 14,000 trains, which cover 64,000 kilometers (40,000 mi) of track.
Salik and Sharma reported from New Delhi.
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