Just two months before the train tragedy in Odisha that claimed at least 288 lives, the Railway Board had flagged concerns about signalling staffers using “short cuts”, PTI reported on Thursday.

In a letter on April 3, RN Sunkar, a member (infrastructure) of the Railway Board, had written to general managers of various zones citing five incidents of lapses in signalling, which he said were of “serious concern”.

“The signalling gears were reconnected by signal and telecom staffers without proper testing of points after blocks for switch/turnout replacement, wrong wiring during preparatory works, attending signal failures etc,” the letter stated.

The Railway Board said that these lapses showed “dilution of manual and codal provisions” and that they were a potential hazard to train safety, PTI reported.

On June 2, exactly two months after the letter was sent, one of India’s deadliest rail crash occurred in Odisha’s Balasore when two coaches of the Yesvantpur-Howrah Express derailed near the Bahanaga Road 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.

The five lapses in the signalling system flagged in the letter by the Railway Board took place between January and March. Two of these incidents resulted in derailments, according to The Hindu.

On January 27, the Meerut City-Lucknow Rajya Rani Express, which had been given clearance for arrival at the Lucknow station, entered the washing line area after cables cut by construction staff were reconnected without testing, the newspaper reported.

In another case, a train cleared for arrival at the Khakopar station in Navi Mumbai derailed due to wrong wiring by the signalling staff. The three other incidents were reported from Northern Railway, South Western Railway and West Central Railway zones.

Also read: Why a ‘fail-safe’ signalling system fails to prevent deadly train crashes

In his letter to the zonal general managers, the Railway Board member had said that officials need to be sensitised “to ensure integrity of the signalling system being of utmost importance from the safety point of view”, The Hindu reported.

Days after the Balasore train disaster, it had come to light that the Railways had received at least two warnings about faulty signalling and poor state of repairment of tracks in the six months leading to the accident.

In a report tabled in December, the Comptroller and Auditor General of India had flagged 24 factors responsible for derailments. The report titled, “Derailments in Indian Railways”, looked into reasons behind trains going off the rails between April 2017 to March 2021 and found that inadequate maintenance of tracks was one of the major contributors to such accidents.

In February, the principal chief operating manager of South Western Railway zone had written to the authorities about “serious flaws” in the signalling system. In a letter written after a train averted a head-on collision, the official warned that if glitches in the signalling system are not fixed, they could lead to “re-occurrence and serious accidents”.

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