“Crash No Accident”:frmr. Railways Minister

“This was no ‘accident’ accident, meaning the cause was not random.” – Former Railways Minister Dinesh Trivedi



In the wake of the horrific trichotomous train crash in Odisha State on Friday evening, Dinesh Trivedi, Former Railways Minister has gone on record with The Global Calcuttan to say that he believes that the ‘accident’ could not have been random. The Coromandal Express, emanating from Shalimar Station, Howrah, which despite having a green signal to go straight, bent on to another track where a goods train was stopped near Balasore, Odisha, colliding with it and causing it to derail two bogeys of  another train, the Howrah Superfast Express, which was moving in the opposite direction at breakneck speed. Trivedi believes this to have been a deliberate act.

“When you have the Railway Board recommending a CBI enquiry – and they are much more knowledgable about these things than me – coupled with the fact that when a green signal is given for a train to go straight, and that train is going straight at a high a speed, the track, which is controlled by a computer, these days, is supposed to stay straight. Instead, it suddenly turned and led the Coromandal Express on to the loop line from the main track. This is simply impossible, according to my understanding of the interlocking system of the tracks. So this was a not an accident accident;” rather it was a purposely caused accident,”  the former Railways Minister said.

Trivedi continued, remarking on the fact that the train had hit a heavy stationary object in the goods train continued:  “Then, when you consider that a goods train, fully loaded with iron ore, was standing still very close ahead, essentially the Coromandal Express slammed into a giant rock – an outcome that could not have been worse.”

Trivedi explained that if the system had properly prepared the Coromandal Express for the loop, then the computer would have caused the Coromondal Express to slow down before turning into the loop. The fact that it took the turn at an impossibly high speed is indicative of some manipulation. “It’s like a car, taking a right turn at a hundred and twenty-five kilometres per hour – will that car stay on the road?” Trivedi fired rhetorically.

Dinesh Trivedi speaks in the Lok Sabha

“So whoever has done it had some sabotage motive in mind, and it was done with purpose.”

Indeed, a Railways official who chose not to be quoted confirmed that if the Coromandal Express was cleared for the loop, the signal would have turned yellow, and the train would have slowed automatically. Instead, it took the loop at high speed, 127 Kilometers per Hour to be precise.

Whether this was a case of computer hacking, other electronic sabotage or manual override is something that Trivedi could not say. “That is beyond my technical understanding. I can only say that something has happened, which is contrary to how the railway system onboard is supposed supposed to work because the railway system on its own, won’t do this. And, there are a lot of checks and balances in place such as a fail safe system in which if an error occurs such as a short circuit, the entire train will be disabled and come to a stop.”

Explaining in a press conference how the point machine and the interlocking system work, railway officials insisted that the system is “error proof” and “fail safe”. They, however, did not rule out the likelihood of intervention from outside.

This kind of tinkering with the “logic” of the AI-based electronic interlocking system can only be “intentional”, PTI reported quoting a senior railway official who did not want to be identified.

According to Jaya Verma Sinha, Member of Operation and Business Development, Railway Board, “It is called a fail safe system, so it means that even if it fails, all the signals will turn red and all train operations will stop.”

The electronic interlocking and point machine are key to train operations, Sandeep Mathur, Principal Executive Director of Signalling, Railway Board, told the media. These two components work in tandem, indicating to the driver whether the track is clear or not.

The interlocking system is a secure way for guiding a train out of a station, while a point machine is vital for signalling for quick operation and locking of point switches. The machine has a key role in the safe running of trains.

“Signal is interlocked in such a manner that it will show if the line ahead is occupied or not. It will also be known whether the point is taking a train straight or towards loop line,” Mathur explained.

“When the point shows straight and the track ahead is not occupied then the signal is green and if the point is taking the train on loop and track is clear then signal is yellow and the route is shown of a different direction,” he added.

The direction, route and signal were set for the Coromandel Express, Jaya Verma Sinha confirmed.

“Green signal means that in every way the driver knows that his path ahead is clear and he can go forward with his permitted maximum speed. The permitted speed at this section was 130 kmph and he was running his train at 128 kmph which we have confirmed from loco logs,” she told PTI, which it reported.

According to officials, the fail safe system ensures that there is no way that a train can be given a green signal if anything is obstructing its path. And, if mechanical failure is detected, a dead stop would have occurred.

The facts on the ground and statements of officials, do seem to support the assertions of former Railways Minister Dinesh Trivedi, that the train ‘accident’ was no accident.

While it is important to understand the cause of the crash, it is little comfort to the survivors of the victims, so many having lost their primary earners in the family.

The Coromandel Express, which many sole bread-winners boarded, derailed 300 metres from Bahanaga Bazar station. It collided with a goods train on the adjacent track, causing the rear carriage of the Coromandel Express to veer off onto the third track. The Bengaluru-Howrah Superfast Express, coming from the opposite direction on the third track at a high speed, rammed into the derailed coaches.

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