Odisha Train Accident: What Is The Need For CBI To Investigate This Crash? Experts Explain

The Indian Railways Ministry has decided to involve the Central Bureau of Investigation to probe the tragic train accident in Odisha to find out if there was any criminal tampering as part of the root cause.

Odisha Train Accident

The Central Bureau of Investigation will be looking into one of the deadliest train accidents in the country that happened in Odisha's Balasore district taking away 278 lives and more than 1000 injured. Many questioned if this is the CBI's field of work to investigate the matter, but the Railway Ministry preferred a top agency probe to find out the details of the cause of such a tragic accident. They will be able to establish if there were any criminal tampering reportedly with the point machine or the electronic interlocking system, or if the train changed tracks due to reconfiguration or a signalling error.

According to the reports, along with the CBI, a report by the Commissioner of Railway Safety is also expected within two weeks.

Following the procedure, the CBI will take over the Balasore GRP case number 64 registered by Odisha Police on June 3, official sources said, adding it is likely to be allotted to Special Crime Unit at the Delhi Headquarters.

The case was registered under various IPC sections like 37 and 38 (related to causing hurt and endangering lives through rash or negligent action), 304A (causing death by negligence) and 34 (common intention), and sections 153 (unlawful and negligent action endangering lives of Railway passengers ), 154 and 175 (endangering lives) of the Railways Act. 

It is likely to be allotted to Special Crime Unit at the Delhi Headquarters.

Reports say, according to the procedure, the CBI re-registers the local police FIR as its case and starts the probe. It can add or remove a charge from the FIR in its charge sheet filed after the completion of its probe.

Railway Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw announced that a CBI probe had been recommended into the accident on Sunday evening.

Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi saying the CBI cannot fix accountability for technical, institutional and political failures.

Kharge also said "all the empty safety claims" of Railway Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw have now been "exposed" and the government must bring to light the real reasons that caused this grave accident, which he described as one of the worst in Indian history.

Rejecting a CBI probe, Odisha units of 12 political parties, including Congress and Left parties, demanded the formation of a Special Investigation Team and the resignation of Vaishnaw to pave the way for an impartial inquiry.

What are the experts saying?

Founder of L2M Rail, a startup that focuses on boosting the safety and sustainability of Railways and IIM Bangalore alum SK Sinha told NDTV about the interlocking system used by the Indian Railways, he said, "Once the route is set and locked, the route cannot be changed until the train completes its movement over the locked route. Signals are green on the routes set and locked for the driver to know that this route is reserved for him and he can go ahead. All events are recorded and available for post-event analysis, and I am sure officials would be studying the data logs to understand what went wrong. The electronic interlocking systems used in Indian Railways are quite robust and conform to the highest level of safety standards and it is unlikely that it would have failed on its own."

Mentioning that track failure is one of the main factors behind derailments, he said, "Extreme temperatures may cause the track to bend or crack. Weld failures also happen. However, deliberate damage to the tracks caused by anti-social elements has been a major issue for Railways. Tracks are inspected twice a day, manually. However, it is possible and desirable to develop systems to monitor tracks 24/7 and report any abnormalities in real-time."

A professor from the Department of Mechanical Engineering at IIT Kanpur, Nalinaksh S Vyas has told the media that he suspects a system failure. He said, "It looks like there was some lack of synchronisation between the electronic and mechanical systems. The way the point works is that it needs to change its position from the main line to loop line or vice versa, and the signaling should happen too simultaneously." Vyas also added, "So there is a mechanical action, which is basically the shifting of the point from inclined to straight, and there the rotating of the motor to go from loop to main that goes along with the electronic action. It is possible that the signal was showing green, but the point was still inclined or partially inclined. It is rare and the Railway Minister is right in identifying this issue, and getting this probed."

According to the reports, the probe will be finding out if the failure of the track management system, signalling failures and other possible angles such as human error, weather issues, communication failure or otherwise caused the accident.

Importance of sensorization of tracks

Vyas explained that in the future to prevent such accidents, sensorization of the tracks of at least 40, 000km is required for seamless communication and application of safety systems like Kavach can make a difference. He added, "It is good that all angles are being probed. The tracks should have had the information that there was a stationary goods train in the loop line. It is important that the benchmarking, certification, adoption and facilitation of such technology on whom millions of lives are dependent are done at the top level, and not left to a few individuals or organisations, and such decisions are taken faster."

Alok Kumar Verma, a former Railways engineer and retired Indian Railways Service Engineer official spoke to the media as he brought up the importance of regular inspections along with maintenance and meticulous train operations.

He said, "All concerned field officials should get adequate traffic blocks and other backup support like the movement of material and manpower to sites to carry out inspections, fault diagnosis and repairs. Station Masters, train pilots, guards, trackmen, signalmen etc should get adequate rest." He also added, "This problem has a cascading effect of trains running late, chaos in train operations etc. Updating technical skills and provision of good tools are also important."


(With PTI inputs)