Balasore major train accident

A view of Coromandel Express train which collides with a goods train at Bahanaga railway station of Balasore district in Odisha on Friday. (UNI)
A view of Coromandel Express train which collides with a goods train at Bahanaga railway station of Balasore district in Odisha on Friday. (UNI)

A tragic train accident occurred in Odisha’s Balasore district, resulting in the deaths of around 300 people and leaving over 1000 injured. The incident involved three trains, with one train derailing and falling onto another. Rescue efforts are underway, with the use of cranes, bulldozers, gas torches, and electric cutters to extricate survivors and retrieve bodies from the wreckage. The cause of the crash is still under investigation, although a possible signalling failure has been mentioned. The Railway Ministry has ordered a probe into the incident, and the Commissioner for Railway Safety will lead the investigation. The accident is considered to be one of the deadliest. The Prime Minister chaired a high-level meeting and visited the accident site and the hospital where the injured are being treated. The government has announced financial assistance to the victim’s families, and rescue operations involve multiple agencies, including the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), the Odisha Disaster Rapid Action Force (ODRAF), and the Indian Air Force (IAF).
The Indian railway system has been grappling with various safety challenges and issues over the years. The Indian railway network, being one of the oldest in Asia, has a significant portion of the ageing infrastructure. Many tracks, bridges, and signalling systems require repair, replacement, or modernization, which can pose safety risks. The Indian railway system carries an enormous volume of passengers and freight, resulting in high traffic density on certain routes. Overburdened tracks and congested stations can increase the likelihood of accidents and delays. While efforts have been made to improve safety, the implementation of advanced safety systems such as train protection and warning systems, automatic signalling, and track monitoring systems like Kavach has been relatively slow. Due to budgetary constraints and operational challenges, there have been instances of inadequate maintenance of tracks, rolling stock, and other infrastructure. This can lead to derailments, accidents, and disruptions in train operations. Despite extensive training programmes, instances of human error by railway staff, including train drivers and signal operators, have been reported. Mistakes such as signal violations, over speeding, and negligence had resulted in accidents. Encroachments along railway tracks and unauthorised crossings pose significant safety risks. These encroachments can obstruct the visibility of signals and compromise the stability of the tracks. Unauthorised crossings can lead to accidents involving pedestrians and vehicles. Fostering a strong safety culture across all levels of the railway system is crucial. Continuous training, awareness campaigns, and strict adherence to safety protocols can help minimise accidents and improve safety practices.
Installing a safety system like Kavach on all railway routes is the need of the hour to enhance the safety and security of passengers. Kavach is an advanced train protection and warning system that helps prevent accidents and minimise their impact. It can provide real-time monitoring, automatic braking, and alerts for various potential risks such as over speeding, signal violations, and train collisions. Involving various stakeholders, such as railway authorities, signalling system providers, train manufacturers, and technology experts, in the planning and implementation process, is crucial for the successful deployment of the Kavach system. Securing adequate funding is essential for implementing Kavach on a large scale. The government and railway authorities must explore private sector participation to gather the necessary financial resources. Cost-benefit analysis and long-term sustainability plans should also be considered. Proper training programmes have to be conducted for railway personnel, including train drivers, signal operators, and maintenance staff, to ensure effective utilisation and maintenance of the Kavach system. However, implementing such a system on all railway routes requires careful planning, coordination, and significant investment.
There have been concerns that the focus on luxury trains in India has sometimes overshadowed the need to address safety issues in the railway system as a whole. While luxury trains contribute to tourism and offer unique travel experiences, it is important to prioritise the safety of all passengers across the entire railway network.
It is important to note that railway systems are complex and face numerous challenges in ensuring safety and security. Indian Railways is one of the world’s largest railway networks, covering vast distances and serving a massive population. Maintaining and securing such a vast network is a continuous and evolving process that requires significant resources, planning, and coordination. Despite the efforts made, there may still be instances where safety and security systems face challenges or gaps. These challenges could be due to factors such as infrastructure limitations, budget constraints, technological upgrades, human error, or other systemic issues. It’s worth mentioning that the government and railway authorities continuously work towards improving safety and security measures in response to incidents and emerging risks. Ongoing investments are being made in areas such as infrastructure modernization, the introduction of new technologies, and training programmes for railway staff to enhance safety and security across the Indian Railways network.
When a significant accident of this magnitude occurs, it often serves as a wake-up call for authorities and stakeholders to reassess safety measures and implement necessary recommendations. Such an incident has once again highlighted areas where improvements are needed and served as a reminder to learn from the event to prevent similar incidents in the future.
Again leading from the front, the PM visited the major accident site and hospitals which had positive impacts on the relief operations and the morale of those affected. It has provided a sense of assurance and instilled confidence that the government is actively working towards addressing the situation and providing the necessary support.
Identifying the causes of what went wrong in railway safety requires a thorough investigation, and the railways must implement the safety measures recommended by various committees over time. The Indian railway authorities and the Government have recognised these safety challenges and have taken several steps to address them. Initiatives such as infrastructure modernization, the introduction of safety systems, and increased investment in railway safety are being undertaken. However, given the vastness of the network and the complexity of the challenges, sustained efforts and further improvements are necessary to ensure a safer railway system in India.