Railway Safety chief flags gaps in 2019 accident inquiry

Railway Board agrees to amend Accident Manual to ensure evidence is preserved

The Commissioner of Railway Safety has formally written to the Railway Board pointing to serious gaps in the inquiry report of a major accident which had a bearing on further investigation and called for amending the Accident Manual to ensure preservation of clues and evidence. The Railway Board has agreed to the advisory and directed the authorities concerned to make necessary changes in the Accident Manual.

The investigation relates to the accident of Train No. 12487 Seemanchal Express at Sahdai Buzurg railway station in Sonpur Division, East Central Railway, during the early hours of February 2, 2019, which left six passengers dead and 24 others injured.

Inadequate observation

“In this accident detailed observations of track and coaches were not done properly and some gaps were left out which have a bearing on investigation. Railway need to amplify and issue correction slip to para 4.12 to 4.18 of Accident Manual of ECR and all other Railways,” the Commissioner of Railway Safety said in his report.

The independent investigating official who comes under the Ministry of Civil Aviation noted that in the Joint Note prepared by railway officials who inspected the scene of the accident, some evidences relating to damages caused to under-gear, brake rigging, coupling & buffers, position of the derailed coaches with respect to track distance etc. were not recorded. Travel marks of wheel on sleepers and their distance from rail, relative position of the detached coaches from the track were also not noted.

“By the time I reached the site, the coaches were removed from their original position and they were thrown by the side of the tracks which made reconstruction of possible sequence of the derailment very difficult and cast limitations on further investigation,” the official said.

Dissent note

The Senior Section Engineer in his deposition during the investigation stated that he did not agree with the joint inspection and even gave a dissent note, the Commissioner of Railway Safety said.

After the issue was flagged at the highest level, the Safety Directorate of Railway Board, in a letter sent to General Managers of all Zonal Railways on March 2, 2021, advised them to take necessary action to amplify/amend their Accident Manuals appropriately to provide for detailed observations of track and coaches so as to ensure that there are no gaps left out which have bearing on investigation.

The move comes amid allegations that railway officials reaching an accident site tend to ignore or tamper with evidence. In 2017, the Ministry of Railways decided to fly drones or unmanned aerial vehicles to capture visuals of accident sites to preserve evidence for inquiry. However the decision has not been implemented as desired yet, railway sources told The Hindu on Wednesday.

The decision to fly drones was necessitated by a finding of the Ministry in December 2016 which said that the basic purpose of an accident inquiry was to pinpoint the cause of failure — be it material, technological, staff or others.

“Unfortunately, rescue and restoration work, which essentially involves railway officials, tend to compromise, if not destroy, evidence. The inquiry officer who reaches the site much later does not have the benefit of proper information and evidence. Consequently, the whole exercise tends to become ‘avoid-the-blame’ game and most of the time the real cause of accident does not get flagged,” a note prepared by the railways on the issue then said.

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