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Ashwini Vaishnav chose Vande Bharat over ‘serious flaws’ in signalling system

Ashwini Vaishnav chose Vande Bharat over ‘serious flaws’ in signalling system

In the aftermath of a recent train accident in Odisha that claimed the lives of at least 288 people and injured around 900, questions have been raised regarding the prioritization of the Vande Bharat project on fixing critical failures in Indian Railways’ signalling system.

According to a letter reviewed by The Print, Rail board officials had reportedly warned of these “serious flaws” and raised concerns about the interlocking flaws as early as February this year.

The accident, involving Shalimar-Chennai Coromandel Express and SMVB – HWH Superfast Express, occurred near the Bahanaga Bazar railway station in Odisha’s Balasore district. It is now considered the country’s worst rail accident since the Firozabad rail tragedy in 1995.

A letter dated February 9, written by the top operations manager for the South-West Rail Zone, highlighted a specific incident involving the Sampark Kranti Express train. The letter revealed a disturbing pattern of route dispatch disturbances and signal failures, in direct contravention of fundamental interlocking principles. The locomotive pilot’s alertness averted a major disaster, prompting calls for immediate action to rectify the faults and prevent similar accidents in the future.

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Amid these safety warnings and concerns, railway officials revealed that presentations on railway safety were omitted during a recent brainstorming session, led by Railway Minister Ashwini Vaishnav, just hours before the tragic accident. While discussions on revenue generation and the launch of Vande Bharat trains were allowed, presentations from various zones on safety measures were conspicuously absent.

The decision to prioritize the Vande Bharat project over “serious deficiencies” in the signalling system has caught the attention of the rail community. Recent alarming incidents, including the derailment of freight trains resulting in casualties, were reportedly raised at the meeting, further underscoring the urgent need to prioritize safety issues.

Indian Railways is also facing a staff shortage, the stationmaster position is critical to maintaining rail safety. “They are forced to work 12-hour shifts. Their role is one of the most crucial in maintaining security. The station master has to monitor everything, from the wheels to the sound the train makes as it passes, to detect any irregularities,” said a senior Railway Ministry official.

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The implementation of the low-cost anti-collision system, KAVACH, has not been fully realized in all areas, exacerbating existing safety concerns.

In response to a claim made under the Right to Information Law, the Ministry of Railways admitted that most railway zones and production units suffer from a severe shortage of human resources. With over 3.11 lakh vacancies in various departments at Indian Railways, the challenge of ensuring a safe and efficient rail network becomes even more pressing.

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