Odisha, train accident
Railways Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw has said that existing security and safety mechanism in the railways will be firmed up in the aftermath of the Odisha train tragedy. File photo

Railways to double lock all location boxes to prevent future accidents

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The Indian Railways will double lock all “location boxes” located along the tracks and ensure the maintenance staff doesn’t hide even minor faults as part of steps to ensure safety in running of trains after the Odisha disaster.

At present, only relay rooms at railway stations are secured with a double lock mechanism, with the signal maintainer and the station master having a key each, The Indian Express reported on Thursday. Location boxes are, however, opened with one key, which lies with signal maintainers. This is going to change.

After a preliminary assessment of how the Coromandel Express wrongly entered a loop line in full speed despite a green signal and hit a stationary goods train, the railway ministry is firming up plans to also secure location boxes with a double lock arrangement.

Also read: Odisha train crash: 40 Coromandel Express passengers may have died of electrocution

Media reports have said that signalling technicians “looped” the location box at the Bahanaga Bazar station in Odisha’s Balasore district to attain a green signal for the oncoming Coromandel Express. In the process, he bypassed due process with devastating effect.

Location box

A “location box”, typically placed along the tracks, holds a junction of connections to the point motor (the movable piece of rail that physically guides a train to its designated track when there are two divergent tracks), the signalling lights, track-occupancy detectors and virtually every critical piece that makes the ‘interlocking’ work seamlessly, the Express said.

As there are multiple such boxes along the tracks, one of the issues officials are dealing with is whether it is feasible to make the station master, whose main job is to ensure train operations, accountable for so many keys. Railways Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw has said that existing security and safety mechanism in the railways will be firmed up.

The appalling June 2 accident involving two passenger trains and one good train led to the death of at least 288 people and injuries to hundreds in what was one of the worst railway disasters in India. Information from Odisha suggests that signalling staff at the station had furnished a “disconnection memo” to the station master and issued “reconnection” — as is the norm. But the technician allegedly accessed the location box and rigged it, since the work was not officially complete.

Also read: Odisha train crash: CBI team at Balasore to begin probe

Railway procedure

“Disconnection memo” means that if signalling maintenance work is to be done, the technician has to officially alert the station to disconnect the automatic signalling, called interlocking, which in turn sets in motion a series of alternative safety protocols.

Sources said it has been internally claimed that the maintenance work was complete, which explains the “reconnection” recorded in the system. “The matter is under investigation. The true picture will emerge after that,” a senior ministry official said.

Senior officials have told the railway staff not take shortcuts in maintenance. The railways on Wednesday ordered a 15-day safety drive for all ranks of officers, including department heads. The officers were told to spend sufficient time during inspection and counsel the staff to carry out quality maintenance work.

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