Erring driver or faulty signal - what caused train tragedy?

By Sabyasachi Roy, IANS
Monday, July 19, 2010

SAINTHIA - Monday’s train collision in West Bengal that killed 61 people and injured over 150 could have been caused by an erring driver or malfunctioning signal system, experts say.

The engineers and former railway employees, who did not wish to be named, said a train can only ram into another one from the rear on the same track if the driver overshoots the signal or the signalling system is defunct.

The railway’s official stance puts the blame squarely on the driver of Sealdah-bound Uttar Banga Express that ploughed into the stationary Bhagalpur-Ranchi Vananchal Express at Sainthia station in Birbhum, about 190 km from Kolkata, at about 2.15 a.m.

The railways maintains the driver overshot the signal.

Many experts, who spoke to IANS, said it was tough to believe that the driver, co-driver and guard were inattentive while running a train at a speed of over 100 km per hour

G.G. Biswas, chief engineer (signal telecommunication) of Kolkata Metro Rail Corporation Ltd and fellow of Institution of Railway Signal Engineers (Britain), said: “It is speculative to say the drivers of the Uttar Banga Express overshot the signal triggering the accident.

“Several issues need to be explored like the speedograph of the damaged engine. A thorough investigation is needed to find out the real cause behind the accident,” he said.

An expert who spoke to IANS said: “Even if it is accepted that the Uttar Banga Express driver (M.C Dey and assistant-driver Nirmal Kumar Mondal) had indeed overshot the signalling system, then what prevented the guard of the train from applying the emergency vacuum brake?”

Some, however, maintain that it was quite unlikely that the signalling system was defunct.

The movement of train is controlled by the automatic interlocking system, which is an arrangement that prevents conflicting movements in junctions or crossings.

An interlocking is so designed to make it impossible for giving a green signal to trains unless the route is proved to be safe, engineers maintain.

So if a section is occupied by a train, the block will be locked automatically and the signal turns to red, they said.

The automatic interlocking system can be defunct if maintenance work is being carried out. In that case, train drivers are given memo with instructions to run the train.

For Uttar Banga express no such memo was signed.

Some are questioning why the train was in such high speed when it had a scheduled stop at Sainthia.

The train, after leaving from Rampurhat station was asked to maintain an average speed of 110 km per hour. But Uttar Banga express made an unscheduled stop at Gadadhapur station just four kilometers from Sainthia, railway sources said.

An engineer of railway’s signal and telecommunication department said: “All the assistant station managers are connected with hotline so that the information regarding train movements can be passed.

“The official concerned of Sainthia station was informed about the position of Uttar Banga express well before the arrival of the train. Then why didn’t the on-duty officers alert the drivers of the two trains?” questioned the engineer.

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