A devastating train crash in eastern India on Friday was the country’s worst rail disaster in two decades, killing more than 280 people. It has renewed questions about rail safety in a country that has invested heavily in the system in recent years after a long history of fatal crashes.
At least 288 people have been confirmed dead.
Two passenger trains collided around 7 pm local time on Friday after one of them hit a stationary freight train at full speed and derailed in Balasore District of Odisha State, according to a initial report to the government. At least 288 people died, according to the train operator, and more than 700 passengers were injured – 56 of them suffered “graevous” injuries.
Details about the cause of the crash remain unclear, but officials say it began when the first of two passenger trains collided with an errant freight train at full speed. A second passenger train, heading in the opposite direction, also collided with a track where some of the dislocated cars landed. More than 2,200 passengers were all aboard the passenger train, according to railway officials, and at least 23 cars were derailed in the disaster. Due to the speed of the collision, the vehicles were badly damaged so the rescuers used cutting equipment to reach the victims.
One of the trains is the Shalimar-Chennai Coromandel Express train, according to the South Eastern Railway. The Coromandel Express service is known for connecting the largest cities on the east coast of India at relatively high speeds. Another passenger train is the Yesvantpur-Howrah Superfast Express train, which runs from a commuter hub in Bangalore to Kolkata, the capital of the eastern state of West Bengal.
India’s railway minister, Ashwini Vaishnaw, said she had ordered an investigation into the cause and that those affected by the crash. receive payment.
The train derailed near Balasore.
The crash happened at Bahanaga Bazar station near Balasore, a coastal city in eastern Odisha State (formerly Orissa), known for its ancient temples and its history as a 17th-century British seaport. The coast along the Bay of Bengal is prone to tropical cyclones, especially in October and November.
Balasore, in the northeastern part of the state, has a railway station but is a few hours’ drive from the nearest airport, in Bhubaneswar, the capital of Odisha. May is usually the hottest time of the year, and the daily high temperature was around 100 Fahrenheit in the days before the crash.
Officials say all hospitals in the area are on standby. A day of mourning was declared in Odisha, home to 45 million people, and many trains were cancelled.
Derailments are becoming less common.
Often referred to as the lifeline of India’s economy, the country’s vast railway network is one of the largest in the world and is vital to Indian lives and livelihoods, especially in many rural pockets. Almost all of India’s railway lines, 98 percent, were built from 1870 to 1930, according to a 2018 study published by the American Economic Review.
The deadliest accident in the history of Indian rail is believed to be in 1981, when a passenger train derailed while it was crossing a bridge in the state of Bihar. Its vehicles sank in the Bagmati River, killing an estimated 750 passengers; many bodies were never recovered.
Derailments in India are frequent, with an average of 475 per year from 1980 to about 2002. They are becoming less common, with an average of more than 50 a year in the decade to 2021, according to a paper by rail. officials presented at the World Congress on Disaster Management.
Rail safety has generally improved in recent years, with the total number of serious train accidents steadily decreasing to 22 in the 2020 financial year from more than 300 every two years. decades ago. By 2020, for two years in a row, India has recorded no passenger deaths during such episodes. This is a first, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government is hailing it as a success. Until 2017, more than 100 passengers died every year.
Still, fatal crashes continued. In 2016, 14 train cars derailed in northeastern India in the middle of the night, killing more than 140 passengers and injuring 200 others. Officials at the time said a “reversal” in the tracks may have been responsible. In 2017, a nighttime derailment in southern India killed at least 36 passengers and injured 40 others.
Friday’s accident was the deadliest at least since a 1995 collision about 125 miles from Delhi that killed more than 350 people.
Modi has made improving transit a priority.
A main reason for improving safety is the elimination of thousands of unmanned railway crossings, which the government of Mr. Modi said that achieved in 2019. The relatively low level of engineering work to build underpass and post more signal conductors drastically reduced crashes.
Mr. Modi has made it a priority to develop infrastructure across the country, especially transportation systems. In recent years, railways, among the most visible projects for ordinary citizens, have received attention for a series of high-tech initiatives. Mr. Modi inaugurated electric medium-range trains and built a Japanese-style “bullet train” corridor on the west coast to connect Mumbai with Ahmedabad.
Last Saturday, however, instead of inaugurating a new train as scheduled, Mr. Modi visited the scene of the train wreck.
The railway system, and especially train accidents, have long affected the fortunes of Indian politicians. The cabinet position of railway minister is one of the most sought after, being both high profile and influential in business and industry. Suresh Prabhu, who is credited with designing New Delhi’s world-class subway system, was forced to resign in September 2017 after a series of minor accidents.
Some opposition politicians called for the resignation of Mr. Vaishnaw during Friday’s disaster hours. That he is also the minister of electronics and information technology suggests that within the range of India’s development projects, railways have become less important. But they still command the power to capture widespread public attention.
Mujib Mashal contributed to the report.