BALASORE, ODISHA – In a devastating incident near the Bahanagar Bazar railway station, a catastrophic collision between two passenger trains and a goods train has left a trail of destruction, claiming numerous lives and leaving hundreds injured. The incident occurred on the evening of 2nd June 2023, at approximately 7:00 PM local time.
The trains involved in this horrific collision were the 12841 Coromandel Express, traveling between Shalimar and MGR Chennai Central, and the 12864 SMVT Bengaluru-Howrah Superfast Express, journeying between SMVT Bengaluru and Howrah. As investigations are underway, the exact cause of the collision remains under scrutiny, with initial reports suggesting a change in electronic interlocking resulting from a signaling error.
Eyewitnesses recounted the terrifying moment when the ill-fated Coromandel Express, mistakenly diverted to a loop line where a goods train was stationary, crashed into it at a speed exceeding 100 km/h. The impact was so tremendous that the engine of the Coromandel Express climbed onto the goods train, causing 22 carriages, filled with unsuspecting passengers, to derail. Tragically, three of these derailed coaches careened into adjacent tracks, colliding with the rear of the SMVT Bengaluru-Howrah Superfast Express.
In the aftermath of this horrific incident, rescue operations were launched on an unprecedented scale. The Chief Secretary of Odisha, Pradeep Jena, coordinated the efforts of three National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) units, four Odisha Disaster Rapid Action Force units, over 15 fire rescue teams, 100 doctors, 200 police personnel, and 200 ambulances. The heroic response of local bus companies, providing transportation for the injured, and the assistance offered by compassionate civilians who provided water and aid to the affected passengers, showcased the resilience and solidarity of the community.
Responding to the catastrophe, the Government of West Bengal dispatched 30 ambulances to assist in rescue and recovery efforts, while also sending 40 doctors and numerous nursing staff to provide medical assistance to the severely injured. The Government of Tamil Nadu demonstrated their commitment by sending a high-level delegation comprising two state ministers and three IAS officers to observe the situation and assist the passengers bound for Chennai. Additionally, they arranged a treatment facility with 70 beds at Rajiv Gandhi Government General Hospital.
As the investigation into the collision unfolds, troubling details regarding the railway authorities’ negligence have come to light. Reports indicate that the anti-collision system, despite having been warned twice in the past six months about its absence, had not been implemented on the track where the collision occurred. A recent report by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India had also highlighted staffing deficiencies within the safety department of Indian Railways, warning of potential impacts on maintenance quality. Furthermore, a letter sent by the principal chief operating manager of the South Western Railway zone in February 2023, after a near collision incident involving the Yesvantpur-Hazrat Nizamuddin Sampark Kranti Express, raised concerns about the signaling system’s glitches and the possibility of future derailments.
In a press conference on 4th June, Railway Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw revealed that the root cause of the collision had been identified as a “change in electronic interlocking” resulting from an error in electronic signals. Expressing his deep concern, Vaishnaw demanded a CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation) inquiry into the incident. With the passage of over 50 hours since the accident, the nation mourns the lives lost while grappling with the unsettling reality that life has once again started running on track.
Tragically, the collision has resulted in a significant loss of life. According to initial reports by Pramila Mallik, Odisha state’s disaster management minister, a staggering 288 people have been confirmed dead, while over 1000 others have sustained injuries of varying degrees of severity.
The impact of this horrific incident has sent shockwaves through the nation, leaving families shattered and communities in mourning. As the authorities continue their tireless efforts to identify and locate the victims, the true extent of the tragedy is gradually unfolding.
The collision has raised serious questions about the safety measures and infrastructure of the Indian Railways. The failure to deploy the anti-collision system, despite prior warnings, is a glaring oversight that has led to this devastating outcome. The December 2022 report by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India, which highlighted the staffing shortage in the safety department, has now become a grim reality. The letter sent earlier this year, cautioning against the signaling system glitches, now serves as a haunting premonition of the disaster that has unfolded.
The nation eagerly awaits the outcome of the proposed CBI inquiry, hoping for answers and accountability. It is imperative that those responsible for these lapses in safety measures be held accountable, ensuring that such a tragedy never repeats itself.
As the affected passengers continue to receive medical treatment and support, the resilience and compassion demonstrated by the local communities and neighboring states offer a glimmer of hope amidst the darkness. It is through unity and collective efforts that the wounds of this calamity may slowly begin to heal.
This incident serves as a solemn reminder of the importance of prioritizing safety measures and addressing infrastructure deficiencies. It is a call to action for the authorities to implement rigorous inspections, adequate staffing, and the latest technological advancements to prevent such catastrophic events in the future.
As the nation grapples with this heart-wrenching tragedy, the impact of the collision will be felt for years to come. The memories of the lives lost and the scars left behind will forever remind us of the need for a safer and more secure railway system.
The investigation into the exact cause of the collision will continue, ensuring that justice is served and lessons are learned. In the meantime, the nation mourns the loss of innocent lives and stands in solidarity with the affected families, offering support and prayers during this time of unimaginable grief.