Indian police arrest three rail staff over Odisha train disaster

Domestic crime agency says those in custody are two engineers and a technician after accident that killed nearly 300 people.

Heavy machinery remove damaged coaches from the railway tracks in Balasore
Workers use heavy machinery to remove damaged coaches from railway tracks at the site of the train collision in Balasore [File: Adnan Abidi/Reuters]

India’s federal police have arrested three railway employees in connection with a train disaster last month that killed 292 people.

Two of those arrested are engineers while the third worked as a technician for the railways, a statement from the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) said on Friday.

The CBI launched an investigation after registering a case of criminal negligence following the June 2 crash, which renewed questions about rail safety in India.

The accident in the Balasore district in the eastern state of Odisha occurred when a passenger train hit a freight train loaded with iron ore.

The passenger train derailed and struck another passenger train passing in the opposite direction.

Rescuers work at the accident site on June 3, 2023
Rescuers work at the site of the crash [File: Rafiq Maqbool/AP Photo]

The two passenger trains were carrying more than 2,000 passengers. The rail disaster, one of the worst in India’s history, also injured about 1,000 people.

In a report seen by the Reuters news agency, investigators with the Commission of Railway Safety said the first collision occurred due to modifications made to the signalling circuit to fix frequent problems at a nearby rail-road barrier.

Local railway staff did not have a standard circuit diagram, which led to a faulty connection in the signalling system when they tried to take the boom-barrier circuit offline for repair, it said. The malfunctioning system directed the passenger train into the path of the freight train, it said.

Indian Railways, the world’s fourth-largest rail network, runs 14,000 trains daily with 8,000 locomotives over a system of tracks about 64,000km (40,000 miles) long.

The network carries more than 21 million passengers each day, according to official figures, and it is under enormous pressure in a country that has recently become the world’s most populous with more than 1.4 billion people.

In 1995, two trains collided near New Delhi, killing 358 people. In 2016, a passenger train slid off the tracks between the cities of Indore and Patna, killing 146 people.

Most such accidents in India are blamed on human error or outdated signalling equipment.

Source: News Agencies