India's deadly rail accident leaves 275 killed and over 1,170 injured
Mangled train carriages were on top of one another, a few coaches had plunged into a nearby water body and an engine sat atop a freight car.
Amid all this, a heap of dead bodies covered in white cloth — many were limbless — lay scattered. Cries and screams of survivors and mourners were heart-wrenching. And over everything was the sound of the sirens of many ambulances.
After reviewing restoration work at the collision site, India's Railway Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw said on Sunday: "We have identified the root cause of the train accident and the people responsible for it. (The) accident happened due to a change in electronic interlocking. Right now our focus is on restoration."
In what has been the third-deadliest crash in the history of India's railways and the worst this millennium, at least 275 people were killed and more than 1,170 injured.
Friday's crash involved three trains. It was reported that about 7 pm the Coromandel Express, which runs from Kolkata to Chennai, hit the derailed bogies of a few carriages of the Yeshwantpur-Howrah Express, which crashed and fell onto the opposite track. A freight train was also said to have been involved.
In a matter of seconds on Friday evening, the Bahanaga Bazar station off the coastal town Balasore in east India's Odisha state conjured up a deathly collage. It is about 171 kilometers northeast of Bhubaneswar, the capital of Odisha.
One train rammed into another, lifting its carriages high into the air, then twisting and finally falling off the tracks, witnesses said.
"At least 10 to 15 people fell on me when the accident happened, and everything went haywire," ANI news agency quoted a survivor as saying. "I was at the bottom of the pile. When I came out I saw someone had lost their hand, someone had lost their leg."
Atul Karwal, chief of the National Disaster Response Force, was quoted by ANI as saying, "The force with which the trains collided resulted in several coaches being crushed and mangled."
By Sunday, all surviving passengers trapped inside the mangled coaches had been taken to safety. Rescue teams, health workers, police and fire service and disaster response force personnel were involved in rescue operations.
The Indian Air Force sent Mi-17 helicopters to aid the rescue effort, which continued until late on Saturday afternoon. All the injured passengers were taken to hospitals.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi held a meeting in New Delhi on the train crash on Saturday morning. In the evening, he visited Balasore and visited the injured people in hospital. Vaishnaw ordered a high-level investigation.
Improving transport infrastructure tops Modi's priority list. Recently he inaugurated Vande Bharat, a semi-high-speed train.
The accident came as a fresh reminder of India's need for a foolproof security system for trains, experts said.
A mishap of this scale is a reminder that maintenance of infrastructure and assets is critical, said G.K. Mohanty, former chief operations manager of India's South Eastern Railway. Mohanty said he suspected a signal failure as being behind Friday's accident.
D.C. Mitra, former managing director of Rail Vikas Nigam Ltd, said, "We aren't perhaps paying enough attention to the needs for maintenance."
Every signal is operated through a system of relays, Mitra said, and a signal may have 30 relays attached to it. Relay rooms are supposed to be air-conditioned, and relays work properly only at temperatures below 25 C, he said.
"I suspect that the relays at Bahanaga Bazaar were exposed to high temperatures."
The state of Odisha observed a day's mourning on Saturday. About 160 unidentified dead bodies were shifted to mortuaries in Bhubaneswar, Xinhua News Agency reported. Restoration work is expected to be over in three days, ANI said.