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India blames train crash on signal failure, death toll nears 300


Indian authorities said preliminary findings showed a signal failure caused a train crash that killed nearly 300 people on Friday, while Prime Minister Narendra Modi vowed to punish those responsible.

Indian Railways Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw said on Sunday that the government has identified “the cause of the incident and the people responsible for it”. Early findings suggested that a malfunction of the “electronic interlocking system”, which controls the movement of trains, resulted in the three-way collision around Balasore station in the eastern state of Odisha.

A fast-moving passenger train, the southbound Coromandel Express, got the wrong signal and continued onto a backup track where it collided with a stationary freight train, according to the government report. A third passenger train traveling north then hit the derailed carriages.

The crash killed at least 288 people and injured more than 800, making it India’s worst rail accident in more than 20 years.

“The government will make every effort to treat the injured,” Modi said during a visit to the site on Saturday. “Those found guilty will be severely punished.”

Several opposition leaders blamed Modi’s Bharatiya Janata party for the accident, accused the government of neglecting investment in rail safety in the region, and called for Vaishnaw to resign. The minister brushed off the demands, saying he was focused on relief work and that “now is not the time to get political”.

Modi has prioritized upgrading the country’s vast rail network, parts of which are outdated. Dating back to the 19th century, the system plays a vital role in moving people and goods around the country with a population of 1.4 billion.

Before the accident, Modi was due to start using a new express train in western India on Saturday. However, an automated collision avoidance system introduced last year had not yet been implemented on the East Indian route where Friday’s crash occurred.

The country has suffered a series of horrific train accidents. Friday’s case was the deadliest since 1995, when more than 350 people died in a crash in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh. A train derailment in the same state in 2016 killed more than 150 people.

A government study found that the number of accidents had dropped from more than 800 a year in the early 1970s to 22 in 2021. The most common cause of recent incidents was train derailments, according to a railway safety audit conducted last year by the Comptroller and India’s Auditor General, who added that rail renewal spending had fallen since 2017.

Friday’s trains were full of migrant workers and their families traveling between their homes in eastern states such as West Bengal and relatively affluent southern cities including Chennai and Bengaluru, where many go in search of work.

“I still can’t believe I survived,” passenger Brahma Das told the Times of India. “I had to crawl onto the blood-soaked body of a passenger to get out of the train in the dark. I couldn’t see anything. There was smoke everywhere.”

Hundreds of rescuers, volunteers and military personnel worked through scorching heat of at least 35C over the weekend to move victims and clear debris from the tracks. With hospitals and morgues overwhelmed, nearly 200 bodies were taken to a nearby school, where relatives from all over India gathered to search for missing loved ones.

“The bodies are starting to decompose in the heat,” Choturam Chowdhury, who had come to the school from West Bengal to find two relatives on their way to Chennai for work, told the Indian Express. “Many faces are not recognisable. . . I don’t know what I will say at home.”

Merry C. Vega is a highly respected and accomplished news author. She began her career as a journalist, covering local news for a small-town newspaper. She quickly gained a reputation for her thorough reporting and ability to uncover the truth.

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