Indian rail crash that killed more than 300 people ‘caused by signalling failure’

A rail crash in India that killed more than 300 people was caused by a signalling failure that made a train wrongly change tracks, the country’s railway minister has said.

At least 900 people were left injured after two 12-coach express trains derailed near Odisha, around 140 miles from Kolkata, in a crash with a stationary freight train on Friday.

Rail minister Ashwini Vaishnaw said there had been an error with the “electronic interlocking” system, which manages the tracks and signal sequencing using sensors and feedback.

“Whoever did it and how it happened will be found out after proper investigation,” he added.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi warned that anyone found guilty of wrongdoing in India’s deadliest train crash in decades will be “punished stringently”.

Some 1,200 rescuers worked through the night to pry open doors and windows, to get to the hundreds of trapped victims.

This view shows wrecked carriages at the accident site of a three-train collision near Balasor (AFP via Getty Images)
This view shows wrecked carriages at the accident site of a three-train collision near Balasor (AFP via Getty Images)

But the operation was hampered by the coaches being pressed together during the horrific impact.

Officials fear, however, that the death toll will rise in the coming days as some survivors succumb to their injuries.

“By 10pm on Friday we were able to rescue the survivors. After that it was about picking up dead bodies,” said Sudhanshu Sarangi, director of Odisha state’s fire and emergency department.

“This is very, very tragic. I have never seen anything like this.”

Mr Modi flew to the site and spent 30 minutes examining the crash scene. He later left for the Odisha state capital to meet with injured victims recuperating in hospitals there.

He said: “It’s a painful incident. The government will leave no stone unturned for the treatment of those injured. Those found guilty will be punished stringently.”

Ironically, he had been due to inaugurate a high-speed train connecting Goa and Mumbai equipped with a collision avoidance system. The trains that derailed did not have it. More than 12 million people ride 14,000 trains across India every day.

Recognising little has been done in the 76 years since independence to upgrade the 40,000 miles of tracks laid by Britain, Mr Modi last year unveiled a modernisation programme.

It will be necessary to cope with India’s status as the world’s most populous nation, with 1.42 billion people.