‘We thought it was an earthquake’: Probe into deadly train crash focuses on signal failure, as rescue efforts end

Jun 4, 2023, 12:00 PM

India train crash...

Rescue workers gather around damaged carriages during the search for survivors at the accident site on June 3.

Originally Published: 04 JUN 23 03:21 ET
Updated: 04 JUN 23 11:06 ET

Balasore, India (CNN) — Authorities investigating one of the deadliest train crashes in India’s history were examining whether a signal failure led to the disaster, as rescue workers finished their search for survivors and overturned train cars were cleared from the tracks on Sunday.

Less than 48 hours after the devastating crash in eastern Odisha state, which left at least 275 dead and more than 1,000 injured, officials were rushing to resume rail services, with scores of workers toiling away in over 118 degrees Fahrenheit to get the tracks back online. With the rail routes still blocked, family members of deceased passengers had to find their way by other means to claim their loved ones.

At the site of the wreck, in the midst of farm fields, belongings of the many people who were on board the passenger trains when they collided with a freight train were still strewn across the ground. Suitcases, bags, shoes and personal items lined the tracks. Crushed rail carriages were rolled in a ditch, some lying on their side.

Deepak Behera, 37, had been playing football in the nearby town of Balasore on Friday evening when the crash happened. He heard a deafening noise. “For a moment we thought it was an earthquake,” he said.

Behera and other local residents rushed to the crash site to find hundreds of passengers packed into the overturned carriages in total darkness, desperately trying to find a way out. They used the flashlights on their mobile phones and began searching for survivors.

“We found a lot of screaming and crying sounds. The carriages were so badly turned and crashed that nobody was capable of getting out,” Behera said, adding that he pulled 28 people alive from the carriages, as well as countless who had died.

Many of the bodies were still unidentified on Sunday. In a sign of the chaos at the site, the death toll was revised down from at least 288 after officials said some of the bodies at the scene had been counted twice.

A survivor of the disaster, Anshuman Purohit, described a scene of horror – train carriages stacked on top of each other two or three story’s high, passengers crushed by the wreckage, blood everywhere.


“When we opened the door, that’s when I actually heard the wail of humanity, crying out in pain crying out for water and crying out for help,” Purohi, who was in first-class and seated towards the end of the train, said.

“There were lots of bodies with unimaginable injuries. I saw a head without a body, I saw skulls crushed in, I saw bodies completely crushed by the metal of the train… it was horrifying.”

Anger is growing over the deadly accident across India, now the world’s most populous nation, renewing calls for authorities to confront safety issues in a railway system that transports more than 13 million passengers every day. While the government has recently poured millions into upgrading the system, years of neglect has left tracks to deteriorate.

India’s railways minister, Ashwini Vaishnaw, said on Sunday that the accident had occurred “due to a change in electronic interlocking” and that an investigation would show “who was responsible for that mistake.”

“The cause has been identified and the people responsible for it have been identified,” he told Indian news agency ANI, declining to give further details until the government report was released.

According to senior railway officials, the Coromandel Express, a high-speed train that was traveling from Kolkata to Chennai, was diverted onto a loop line and slammed into a heavy goods train idled at Bahanaga Bazar railway station. Its carriages derailed onto the opposite track, where they were hit by an oncoming high speed train, the Howrah Express, which was traveling from Bangalore.

Jaya Varma Sinha, an Indian railways ministry official, said on Sunday that the high speed of the Coromandel Express colliding into the goods train, which was carrying iron ore, had contributed to the huge number of casualties and injuries.

“The impact was high as the train was moving at full speed, 128 kmph [79.5mph], and the other issue here is that it was a goods train carrying iron ore, which is a heavy train so the entire impact of the collision was felt on the moving train,” Sinha said.

She added that the other passenger train was also moving at a very high speed, 126 kmph [78.2mph], and that in the last fraction of a second it came into the path of the other derailed coaches.

Hopes have faded that any more survivors will be found, with authorities on Sunday switching their focus from searching for people stuck under overturned carriages to clearing the wreckage. All 21 coaches which were derailed have been moved and the rest of the site is being repaired so that services can start again.

Hundreds of workers, many of them working by hand with picks and shovels, were toiling in the heat and humidity on Sunday to fix the tracks. Seven excavating machines, two accident relief trains and four railway and road cranes have been deployed to the site, India’s railway ministry said.

Vaishnaw, the railways minister, who is facing calls from opposition politicians to resign, said the aim was to have a “complete, normal-like situation by Wednesday morning,” adding, “we have mobilized lots of resources.”

The number of injured remains at over 1,000 people, and over 100 patients need critical care, according to Mansukh Mandaviya, India’s health minister, who arrived in Odisha state on Sunday morning. Expert doctors, specialized equipment, and medication have been flown in from the Indian capital, New Delhi, Mandaviya added.

Odisha’s chief minister, Naveen Patnaik, on Sunday announced 500,000 rupees ($6,067) in compensation for the next of kin of those who died and 100,000 rupees ($1,213) for people who sustained serious injuries.

Patnaik said “all possible steps have been taken to save the lives of injured passengers in different hospitals,” according to a statement issued by Odisha’s Information and Public Relations Department.

The state authorities said a special train service will run on Sunday to transport survivors and dead bodies out of Odisha. It will run to Chennai, in the southern Tamil Nadu state, and stop at all major stations, with a parcel carriage attached to carry bodies of the deceased.

Indian Prime Minister Narenda Modi, who visited the site, hailed local authorities and rescuers for their work. He has also emphasized that those to blame for the accident will be brought to justice.

“We can’t bring back those we have lost but the government is with them (families) in their grief. This incident is very serious for the government … Whoever is found guilty will be punished severely,” Modi said on Saturday, adding that the government would “leave no stone unturned.”

The train crash has raised questions over the safety of the country’s massive and outdated rail network, as the government invests in its modernization.

India’s extensive rail network, one of the largest in the world, was built more than 160 years ago under British colonial rule. Today, it runs about 11,000 trains every day over 67,000 miles of tracks in the world’s most populous nation.

Decaying infrastructure is often cited as a cause for traffic delays and numerous train accidents in India. Though government statistics show that accidents and derailments have been on the decline in recent years, they are still tragically common.

More than 16,000 people were killed in nearly 18,000 railway accidents across the country in 2021. According to the National Crime Records, most railway accidents – 67.7% – were due to falls from trains and collisions between trains and people on the track. Train-on-train collisions are less common.

In 2005, at least 102 people died when a passenger train derailed in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh as it tried to cross tracks washed away by a flood. In 2011, scores were killed when a train jumped tracks in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh.

The death toll from Friday’s crash has already surpassed that of another infamous incident in 2016, when more than 140 people were killed in a derailment in northern Uttar Pradesh state. The same year, Modi announced huge investments in India’s railway system aimed at improving safety and connectivity.

In February, Modi inaugurated the first section of a 1,386-kilometer (861-mile) expressway linking the capital New Delhi to the financial hub of Mumbai. Construction is also underway for the Western Dedicated Freight Corridor, which aims to decongest India’s railway network. Later this year, the country will open Chenab Bridge – the world’s tallest railway bridge – in the country’s Jammu and Kashmir region.

Upgrading India’s transportation infrastructure is a key priority for Modi in his push to create a $5 trillion economy by 2025. For the fiscal year that started in April, Modi’s government raised capital spending on airports, road and highway construction and other infrastructure projects to $122 billion, or 1.7% of its GDP.

A significant portion of that spending is targeted at introducing more high-speed trains to its notoriously slow railways.

Several major projects have just finished, or are close to completion, including the construction of the world’s tallest railway bridge in the Jammu and Kashmir region.

Modi had been set to inaugurate a new high-speed train, the Vande Bharat Express, on Saturday before the accident happened.

™ & © 2023 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All rights reserved.


We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Send it to the KSL NewsRadio team here.


Usher performing at the 2023 iHeartRadio Living Black Block Party in Los Angeles. (Kevin Winter/Get...

Alli Rosenbloom, CNN

Usher will headline the 2024 Super Bowl halftime show

Grammy-winning artist Usher is saying “Yeah!” to headlining the Super Bowl LVIII halftime show.

5 days ago

Shelves of bottled water were far from full Friday at Fremin's Food Market in Port Sulphur, Louisia...

Jamiel Lynch and Rachel Ramirez, CNN

An October saltwater intrusion could threaten drinking water in New Orleans, so they’ll barge in 36 million gallons of fresh water a day

The US Army Corps is planning to barge 36 million gallons of fresh water daily into the lower Mississippi River near New Orleans.

5 days ago

Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men and children gather in the coastal city of Netanya on September 21, to pe...

Sofia Barrett, CNN

Yom Kippur is the holiest day of the year in Judaism. Here’s what that means

Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement, is considered the holiest day of the year for people who practice Judaism.

5 days ago

Senator Bernie Sanders addresses the audience during a rally in support of striking United Auto Wor...

Eva Rothenberg, CNN

Contract negotiations: UAW strike puts the four-day workweek back in focus

Originally Published: 17 SEP 23 17:02 ET (CNN) — When the United Auto Workers called a strike last week against General Motors, Ford and Stellantis, one of their demands focused on an idea circulating on the periphery of labor reform circles. In addition to calling for a 36% pay raise and increased job security, union […]

12 days ago

After Drew Barrymore initially announced plans to resume production of her daytime talk show, the W...

Alli Rosenbloom and Lisa Respers France, CNN

Drew Barrymore and ‘The Talk’ pause show returns as writers and actors remain on strike

Drew Barrymore announced that she will pause the premiere of her talk show

12 days ago

Generac has recalled about 64,000 of its portable generators after reports of overheating resulting...

Michelle Watson, CNN

Generac recalls around 64,000 portable generators amid hurricane season

As hurricane season continues to knock out power supplies Generac Power Systems says its recalling thousands of portable generators.

12 days ago

Sponsored Articles

silhouette of a family looking over a lake with a bird in the top corner flying...

Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

8 Fun Activities To Do in Bear Lake Without Getting in the Water

Bear Lake offers plenty of activities for the whole family to enjoy without having to get in the water. Catch 8 of our favorite activities.

Wellsville Mountains in the spring with a pond in the foreground...

Wasatch Property Management

Advantages of Renting Over Owning a Home

Renting allows you to enjoy luxury amenities and low maintenance without the long-term commitment and responsibilities of owning a home.

Clouds over a red rock vista in Hurricane, Utah...

Wasatch Property Management

Why Southern Utah is a Retirement Paradise

Retirement in southern Utah offers plenty of cultural and recreational opportunities. Find out all that this region has to offer.

Human hand holding a protest banner stop vaping message over a crowded street background....

Prosperous Utah Communities

Utah’s Battle to Protect Youth from Vaping Epidemic Faces New Threat as Proposed Rule Threatens Progress

Utah's strict standards of nicotine levels in vaping products are at risk, increasing health hazards associated with use. Read more about how you can advocate for a better future for Utah's youth.

Aerial photo of Bear Lake shoreline with canopies and people camped out on the beach...

Visit Bear Lake

Last-Minute Summer Vacation Planning? Check Out Bear Lake!

Bear Lake is the perfect getaway if you are last-minute summer vacation planning. Enjoy activities with your whole family at this iconic lake.

close up of rose marvel saliva blooms in purple...

Shannon Cavalero

Drought Tolerant Perennials for Utah

The best drought tolerant plants for Utah can handle high elevations, alkaline soils, excessive exposure to wind, and use of secondary water.

‘We thought it was an earthquake’: Probe into deadly train crash focuses on signal failure, as rescue efforts end