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Investigators seize phones of India rail workers on duty at time of Odisha crash

Officials seize phones and electronic devices as probe continues into country’s deadliest rail accident this century

Alisha Rahaman Sarkar
Thursday 08 June 2023 15:38 BST
India train crash: Families of victims speak out after fatal derailment

India’s top investigations agency has seized the mobile phones and electronic devices of the railway officials on duty during the deadly triple-train crash that killed at least 288 people last week in Odisha.

The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), which has been tasked with establishing whether any criminal charges should be brought in relation to the crash, seized data from the nearest railway station to the crash site, Bahanaga, on the second day of their probe. The data logger that was taken, considered the “black box” of railways, monitors and records all activities and events in the signalling system of a station.

The officials spent nearly an hour on the site of the fatal accident on Wednesday, where they examined the main and loop tracks along with the panel room.

They also quizzed the ground staff and seized phones and electronic devices from the station manager along with five others who were on duty at the station, a railway official confirmed to The Independent.

A preliminary investigation found that Friday’s crash took place “due to a change in the electronic interlocking” system – the signalling failsafe that should have prevented the Coromandel Express from being incorrectly diverted away from its clear main track to a side loop, where it ploughed into a stationary freight train.

It caused the engine and the first four or five coaches of the overcrowded Chennai-bound passenger train to jump the tracks, topple and hit the last two coaches of the Yesvantpur-Howrah train heading in the opposite direction on the second main track.

Gunanidhi Mohanty, the injured train driver from the Coromandel Express, reportedly claimed to have received a green signal to proceed on the loop line.

Railway officials had earlier indicated that the crash was caused due to possible “sabotage” and “deliberate interference” of the signalling system.

The electronic interlocking system was described as “fail-proof”, which means signals on all tracks should turn red and halt the movement of all trains if there is a fault on any line. “So, unless there is deliberate interference in the system, it is not possible that a route that is set for the main line for a train is switched to the loop line,” an official told Times of India.

Mamata Banerjee, the chief minister and leader of the opposition Trinamool Congress party, accused Narendra Modi’s government of using the CBI in order to “suppress” the actual reason behind the crash.

“This is the century’s biggest train accident. To suppress the incident, things have been cleaned and cleared from the spot and then the central agency has been sent to probe the accident,” she said.

“To suppress the actual incident, you have sent the CBI from Delhi to Balasore. The accused behind the accident must be punished.”

The main opposition Congress party had also written to the prime minister, questioning the decision to involve the CBI.

“The CBI is meant to investigate crimes, not railway accidents,” Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge wrote in an open letter to Mr Modi, asking why the government ignored “crucial warnings”.

In December, the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India flagged 24 factors responsible for derailments, of which signalling was one.

“The CBI, or any other law enforcement agency, cannot fix accountability for technical, institutional and political failures,” Mr Kharge added.

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