Kavach, an anti-train collision system, was not available on the route in Odisha’s Balasore where an accident involving three trains occurred last night, the Indian Railways said on Saturday.

At least 288 passengers have been killed and around 900 were injured in the crash, which is one of India’s worst train disasters.

Kavach sounds an alert when a loco pilot jumps a signal, a leading cause of train collisions. It automatically activates the train braking system if the driver fails to control the train as per the speed restrictions. The system was indigenously developed by the Research Design and Standards Organisation along with three Indian firms.

The system was tested by Railways Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw in March last year. Since then, it has been deployed on over 1,098 kilometres and 65 locomotives in the ongoing projects of the South Central Railway, according to The Indian Express.

Vaishnaw had said that the system would be installed on 4,000 to 5,000 km of railway lines each year, starting with the Mumbai-Delhi-Howrah route.

Friday’s accident occurred at around 7 pm in Balasore when two coaches of the Yashwantpur-Howrah Express derailed near the Bahanaga Railway Station. The derailed coaches came in the path of the speeding Coromandel Express on the adjoining track and collided with it. A goods train was also hit in the process.

Visuals shared on social media showed upturned train cars and people attempting to pull survivors from the wreck.

Rescue workers and military personnel gather around damaged carriages at the accident site in Odisha's Balasore. Credit: AFP/DibyangshuSarkar

Vaishnaw on Saturday said that a detailed high-level investigation will be conducted to determine the cause of the accident. Media reports, however, said that the Railways was looking at a signalling error as the possible cause of the accident.

According to The Hindu, the Coromandel Express was first given a signal to pass but was later taken off. The reason behind this remains unclear.

TMC demands Vaishnaw’s resignation

Meanwhile, the Trinamool Congress said that Vaishnaw should tender his resignation following the train accident, PTI reported.

The party’s national general secretary Abhishek Banerjee alleged that the Centre was spending crores of rupees on software to spy on Opposition leaders while neglecting the installation of anti-collision devices in trains.

“My heart goes out to the families who lost their loved ones and wishing a speedy recovery to the injured,” he wrote on Facebook. “If there remains a semblance of conscience, the Railway minister should resign. NOW!”

In response, the Bharatiya Janata Party accused the Trinamool Congress of politicising the accident.

“When Mamata Banerjee was the railway minister, then too train accidents happened, did she resign? The answer is no,” West Bengal BJP spokesperson Samik Bhattacharya said.

Earlier in the day, Banerjee had also said that the anti-collision system would have prevented Friday’s accident, reported ANI.

“From what I saw, this is the biggest railway accident of the 21st century,” she said. “Such cases are handed over to Railway’s safety commission and they investigate and give a report...There was no anti-collision device on the train, as far as I know. Had the device been on the train, this would not have happened.”