The Ministry of Railways has launched a high-level inquiry into the tragic train accident that occurred in Balasore district of Odisha, which has claimed 288 lives and left 803 injured.
The Railways is probing as to whether the Coromandel Express changed tracks and why it may have done, the official added.
Officials said that none of the trains in the crash were equipped with anti-collision equipment nor was the section covered by the National Automatic Train Protection System or Kavach.
“Kavach is already functioning on 1,455 kms on South Central Railway. Tenders for another 2,951 km on Delhi-Mumbai and Delhi-Howrah sections have been awarded and the completion of installation of the system is targetted for 2024,” a senior railway official said. Kavach has been sanctioned on 35,736 kms of high-density networks and high utilised networks of the Railways. Kavach is only functional on nearly 4% of this sanctioned route.
Senior railway officials told The Hindu that even Kavach can only help give warnings when there is sufficient distance between two trains, because of “emergency braking speed”. “When Railway Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw demonstrated the use of Kavach, the trains stopped short of each other at a distance of 320 metres while travelling on the same track,” the official said. The official further added that the distance between the Coromandel Express and the goods freight train was barely 120 metres when the former either got derailed or accidentally switched tracks. Trains need anywhere between 600 metres to 2 km of heads-up to apply brakes to prevent a potential collision, the official added.
“The main point of the inquiry will be whether Coromandel Express switched routes, or whether it went on the route of the freight train due to derailment. Because if it switched routes within a short distance of 120 metres, Kavach would not have been helpful in preventing the collision, as there was no scope for application of emergency brakes,” the official said.
Currently, there is scarce information on the health of the locopilot and the assistant locopilot at the helm of the Coromandel Express. “The locopilot and the assistant locopilot will be able to provide an accurate eyewitness account of what occurred. This will be crucial to the inquiry,” the official said.