Saturday, July 13, 2024

Human Error Or Signal Failure? What Led To Bengal Train Crash That Killed 9


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Kanchanjunga Express Accident: The driver of the goods train was authorised to cross all red signals


The Kanchanjunga Express was travelling from Agartala in Tripura to Sealdah in Kolkata when a goods train hit it from behind near Rangapani station, close to New Jalpaiguri Monday morning, resulting in the deaths of nine people and injuries to 41. Preliminary findings point to a combination of human error and signal failure as contributing factors.

The Railway Board’s initial report on Monday revealed that the goods train, operating under a defective automatic signalling system, was travelling above speed limits when it crashed into the Kanchanjunga Express. The railways have not commented on this issue.

When the automated system fails, railway protocol mandates a written authority known as TA 912. This document authorises train drivers to pass all red signals due to the signalling defect, provided they adhere to stringent safety measures. Both the Kanchanjunga Express and the goods train had been issued TA 912 (pictured below).

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According to railway procedures, under TA 912, drivers must stop for one minute at each defective signal and proceed at a maximum speed of 10 kmph. Additionally, they must maintain a 150-metre gap from the preceding train to ensure adequate stopping distance if the previous train has not cleared the signal. However, in this incident, the goods train driver violated these critical conditions.

The Kanchanjunga Express had cleared nine automatic signals with TA 912 and had stopped after crossing the nine signals awaiting fresh clearance to proceed further.

Authorisation To Cross Red Signals

The Railway Board said that the driver of the goods train had been authorised to cross all red signals between Rangapani and Chattarhat railway stations due to the defective automatic signalling system. However, the train’s speed exceeded the permissible limit set for such situations. The goods train driver was given a TA 912, by the station master of Rangapani, permitting the train to pass nine red signals. This authorisation was crucial because the automatic signalling system had been malfunctioning since 5:50 am on the day of the accident.

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Photo Credit: ANI

The goods train, GFCJ, departed from Rangapani at 8:42 am and collided with the stationary Kanchanjunga Express at 8:55 am. The impact resulted in the derailment of the guard’s coach, two parcel coaches, and a general seating coach of the passenger train. The driver of the goods train, who was among the dead, was found to have not followed the mandatory speed restrictions, leading to the crash.

The driver of the Kanchanjunga Express adhered to the safety norms required during a signalling defect. He stopped at all red signals for one minute and proceeded at a speed of 10 kmph. In contrast, the goods train’s driver proceeded at higher than permissible limits and rammed the passenger train.

Automatic Signalling System Failure

The TA 912 authority letter mentioned that the automatic signalling system had failed and authorised the driver to pass all automatic signals between Rangapani and Chattarhat, regardless of whether they were red or caution signals. The Railway Board said that under normal circumstances, a train encountering a red signal should stop for one minute during the day and two minutes at night, proceeding with extreme caution at speed not exceeding 15 kmph in good visibility conditions and 10 kmph in poor visibility.

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Despite these regulations, the goods train exceeded the permissible speed, leading to the catastrophic collision. The exact speed at which the goods train was travelling has not been disclosed by the Railway Board.

Rescue operations concluded by late afternoon, but efforts to clear the derailed coaches and restore rail services continued. The North Bengal Medical College and Hospital treated several injured passengers, with 41 remaining hospitalized, including nine in critical condition.

Official Response

The Commissioner of Railway Safety (CRS) initiated a probe into the cause of the accident. Railway Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw visited the site, overseeing relief operations and announcing compensation for the victims’ families. Rs 10 lakh will be provided to the families of those who died, Rs 2.5 lakh to the grievously injured, and Rs 50,000 to those with minor injuries.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi offered his condolences to the victims and prayed for the recovery of those who were injured. 

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Photo Credit: PTI

“The railway accident in West Bengal is saddening. Condolences to those who lost their loved ones. I pray that the injured recover at the earliest. Spoke to officials and took stock of the situation. Rescue operations are underway to assist the affected. The Railways Minister Shri @AshwiniVaishnaw Ji is on the way to the site of the mishap as well,” PM Modi posted on X. 

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee criticised the Railway Ministry for neglecting passenger safety and failing to implement the anti-collision system effectively. She alleged that the railways focused more on fare hikes than improving safety measures. 

“The railways have become totally parentless. Though the ministry is there, the old glory is missing. Only beautification is being done, but they do not care about passenger amenities. They are only keen on hiking fares,” she said. “You will only see them talk big. They also do not take care of the railway officers, technical, safety, and security personnel. I am with the railway employees and officers.” 

Governor CV Ananda Bose urged the prioritisation of treating the victims rather than engaging in blame games.


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