As rescue workers completed operations on Sunday after India’s deadliest rail crash in more than two decades, focus turned to what might have caused the accident.
Friday’s crash in the eastern state of Odisha involved three trains: the Coromandel Express, heading south to Chennai from Kolkata, the Yesvantpur-Howrah, heading in the opposite direction from Bengaluru to Kolkata, and a stationary freight train.
According to Jaya Varma Sinha, a railway board member, preliminary investigations indicate that the Coromandel Express moved out of the main track and entered a loop track – a side track used to park trains – at 80mph, where it crashed into the freight train.
The crash caused the engine and first four or five coaches of the Coromandel Express to jump the tracks, topple and hit the last two coaches of the Yesvantpur-Howrah train, which was also travelling at about 80mph on the second main track, Sinha said. This second crash caused the two coaches to jump the tracks and resulted in the massive pileup, Sinha said.
An inquiry is focused on the computer-controlled track management system, called the interlocking system, which directs a train to an empty track at the point where two tracks meet. The system is suspected to have malfunctioned and should not have allowed the Coromandel Express to take the loop track, Sinha said.
Drone footage of the accident site filmed on Saturday shows a mess of tangled carriages.
By Sunday, a substantial amount of wreckage had been cleared from the crash site.
The number of railway accidents in India – which has the largest train network under one management in the world – has come down in the past few years, but safety remains the biggest problem.
As of Sunday evening, the death toll from Friday’s crash stood at 275, with nearly 1,200 injured. At a business centre where bodies were being taken for identification, dozens of relatives waited, many weeping and clutching identification cards and pictures of missing loved ones.