Odisha train crash, death toll, PK Jena, Railways
The Odisha triple train crash claimed the lives of 288 people and left more than 1000 injured.

Odisha train tragedy: Jr Engineer Amir Khan not missing, but still under CBI scanner

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A conspiracy theory in the Balasore triple-train accident was partly debunked on Tuesday, as reports that Railway Junior Engineer Amir Khan was missing were proved false.

On Monday, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) was zeroing in on Khan, the junior engineer responsible for the Soro section signal. A CBI team had sealed the house after not finding Khan there. This writer visited the locality and found the house sealed yesterday.

Balasore engineer
Sealed residence of Railway Junior Engineer Amir Khan at Kamarpur, Odisha.

However, on Tuesday, when the CBI conducted a search at his rented accommodation in Soro, Khan was very much present with the team. Media persons were witness to the presence of Khan with the CBI officials. 

Police sources said Khan, a domicile of West Bengal, was staying on rent at Kamarpur in Soro area. The signal at the Bahanaga Bazar railway station where the June 2 accident occurred, killing over 290 persons and injuring hundreds, is reportedly controlled by the Soro section, the in-charge of which was Khan.

Khan came under the CBI scanner following interrogations of three railway officials, including the station master of Bahanaga Bazar station.

Watch: Sabotage behind Odisha train tragedy? Sr. Rly engineer’s tell-all interview

“The CBI team had left Balasore on June 16 after completing initial investigations. The team returned on Monday to seal the house,” a police source said. “The house was sealed as Khan was not present at his home. It was presumed that he was missing,” a police official said. This has been discounted by railway officials.

‘Missing’ assumption debunked

The engineer accompanied the CBI team when they visited the house on Tuesday, debunking any presumption of him going missing. The South Eastern Railway also clarified on Tuesday that none of its staff “are missing or absconding”.

A probe, however, is on. Apart from his role in the signal operation on that ill-fated evening, the CBI team is also checking the background of the junior engineer, the police sources added.

The junior engineer was responsible for the upkeep of the entire signalling mechanism of the section under his charge, railway sources said. There is, however, a protocol to access the control room, which is always kept under lock and key, even for regular maintenance work, the sources added. No one can enter the room without the prior permission of the station master.

Watch | Odisha train tragedy: A deep dive into the 17-A concern

A preliminary investigation conducted by senior railway officials immediately after the accident had blamed signal failure for the catastrophe. It had stated that the Chennai-bound Coromandel Express deviated from the main up line because the tracks at Point No. 17-A were set for an up-loop line where a goods train was stationary. Point 17-A can be roughly defined as a machine that helps trains change tracks at a crossing.

June 2 confusion

The data logged at the control panel, however, gave a different picture. It had indicated that Point 17-A was set for a normal route, which is the main up line, creating confusion.

A senior railway official who was part of the investigation team, however, differed with the signal-failure theory and had given a note of dissent to the findings.

(Manas Biswal is a journalist based out of Balasore, who contributes stories to The Federal.)

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