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Faulty Repairs in India’s Rail Signalling System Led to Worst Rail Disaster in Two Decades

An official probe into India’s worst rail disaster in two decades, which occurred on June 2 at Bahanaga Bazar station in the eastern state of Odisha, has revealed that workers repairing a rail-road barrier made faulty connections in the automated signalling system on the network.

The tragic crash resulted in the death of 288 people and left over 1,000 injured. The disaster unfolded when a passenger train collided with a stationary freight train, derailed, and subsequently collided with another passenger train coming from the opposite direction. According to the probe report seen by Reuters, investigators from the Commission of Railway Safety (CRS) found that the initial collision occurred due to modifications made to the signalling circuit to address frequent issues at a nearby rail-road barrier.

Local railway staff lacked a standard circuit diagram, leading to a flawed connection in the signalling system when attempting to take the boom-barrier circuit offline for repairs. This malfunctioning system inadvertently directed the passenger train onto the path of the freight train, resulting in the devastating accident.

Earlier, Reuters reported that investigators were focusing on the repair work on the rail-road barrier and its potential connection to a manual bypass of the signalling system. Indian Railways, the world’s fourth-largest train network, operates as a state monopoly under the Railway Board, which reports to the Railways Ministry. Despite undergoing a US$30 billion transformation with modern trains and stations as part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s infrastructure and connectivity initiative, questions have arisen about whether safety measures receive sufficient attention.

The CRS probe report highlighted lapses in the signal and telecom department at various levels and noted that standard operating procedures were not followed during the repair work, shedding light on the need for improved safety protocols within the railway system.