Signalling issue, why no Kavach: Odisha train tragedy decoded

Signalling issue, why no Kavach: Odisha train tragedy decoded

By Milan Sharma: Three trains collided one after another in a horrific sequence in Odisha’s Balasore district, leaving at least 288 people dead and around 1,100 injured. Two passenger trains — Bengaluru-Howrah Superfast Express and Shalimar-Chennai Central Coromandel Express — and a goods train were involved in an accident that was triggered by a derailment.

The joint inspection report noted that Shalimar-Chennai Coromandel Express passed the Bahanaga Bazar railway station at 6.52 pm while SMVB – HWH Superfast Express passed at 6.55pm. The accident took place at about 6.55 pm, the report noted. Three minutes is not enough time to break and stop two loaded trains with more than 22 coaches each.

The train collisions could not be stopped in just three minutes. Moreover, there was no Kavach installed or made operational on this route to stop the collision. Could a Kavach have prevented this horrific fate? NO. Because this wasn’t a head-on collision.


According to the railway ministry, ever since Kavach was sanctioned, it has been mostly to prioritise 35,736 km of High-Density Network (HDN) and High Utilised Network (HUN) of Indian Railways. Kavach tenders have been awarded on 2,951 km on the Delhi-Mumbai and Delhi Howrah sections. This is targeted for commissioning in 2024.


Kavach has been deployed on over 1,098 Route km and 65 locos in on- going projects of South Central Railway. “Successful trial of Kawach has been done by the railway minister risking his life to show the world that Indians are proud of our products which have technical capabilities to beat the best technologies in the world,” said their official statement.

The implementation of Kavach is going for 1200 route km of South Central Railway, on Bidar – Parli Vaijnath – Parbhani and Manmad – Parbhani – Nanded – Secunderabad – Gadwal – Dhone – Guntakal sections.


Initial reports suggested a signaling issue that ultimately led to the horrific accident involving three trains. Questions have been raised about maintenance and upgradation of signalizing and interlocking systems.


In 2012, the railway ministry appointed a high level safety review committee under the chairmanship of Dr Anil Kakodkar to review the safety of the Indian Railways and recommend improvements. The committee recommended the adoption of an Advanced Signalling System (akin to the European Train Control System) for the entire trunk route length of 19,000 km within 5 years at an estimated cost of Rs 20,000 crore. But until March 31, 2023, the railways were able to bring 6,396 stations under the upgrades out of 6,506 stations, still leaving out about 110 stations.

The Kakodkar committee report said that derailments constitute the largest chunk of 50% of total accidents followed by 36% of accidents at unmanned level crossing gates, 5% of collisions, 4% of accidents at manned level crossing gates, 2% fire accidents and balance 3% of accidents are due to misc.


Union Railway Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw, after visiting the accident site in Odisha’s Balasore where a triple train collision happened, said on Sunday that the root cause of the accident has been identified. The minister said the inquiry into the train accident has been completed and rail safety commissioner will submit the report at the earliest.

“The commissioner of railway safety has investigated the matter and let the investigation report come. But we have identified the cause of the incident and the people responsible for it… It happened due to a change in electronic interlocking. Right now our focus is on restoration,” the minister added.


Expenditure of Rs 74,175.75 crore was incurred from the Rashtriya Rail Sanraksha Kosh (RRSK) till the end of 2021-22, with contribution from Gross Budgetary Support (GBS) of Rs 70,045.79 crore. However, CAG report ended March 2021 on the derailment in Indian Railways stated, “The overall expenditure on Priority-I works from RRSK showed a declining trend from 81.55 per cent in 2017-18 to 73.76 per cent in 2019-20. The allotment of funds for track renewal works declined from Rs 9,607.65 crore (2018-19) to Rs 7,417 crore in 2019-20.”

The funds allocated to track renewal works were also not fully utilized. Out of 1127 derailments during 2017-21, 289 derailments (26 per cent) were linked to track renewals.

On the recommendation of NITI Aayog, the government agreed to extend the budget of RRSK for another five- year term beyond 2021-22, with contribution of Rs 45,000 crore from GBS. In 2022-23, expenditure of Rs. 11,797.42 crore incurred and in 2023-24, provision of Rs. 11,000 crore made under RRSK, the ministry has cleared.


The CAG report on derailment in Indian Railways 2021 also analysed 1129 inquiry reports of derailment accidents in 16 Zonal Railways revealed 24 factors responsible for derailments in the selected cases/accidents. The total damages/loss of assets in these cases was reported as Rs 32.96 crore.

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As many as 422 derailments were attributable to the ‘Engineering Department’. The major factor responsible for derailment was related to ‘maintenance of track’ (171 cases), followed by ‘deviation of track parameters beyond permissible limits’ (156 cases).

The number of derailments attributable to the ‘Mechanical Department’ was 182. Defects in ‘wheel diameter variation and defects in coaches/wagons’ were the major contributor (37 percent) to the factors responsible for derailments.

The number of accidents attributable to the ‘Loco Pilots’ was 154. ‘Bad Driving/Over speeding’ was the major factor responsible for derailments.

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