The tragic train accident that killed 288 people and injured more than 1,000 in the Balasore district of Odisha was caused by a technical malfunction, said Railway Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw.
During his interaction with the media, the minister confirmed that the cause of the train accident was directly related to the change machine and the electronic locking system. He explained that the electronic interlocking system, which serves as a safety mechanism to prevent collisions and conflicting movements between trains, experienced a malfunction, which ultimately resulted in the tragic incident.
Railway Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw said, “It is about switch machines, electronic interlock. The change that happened during the electronic interlock, the accident happened because of it. Whoever did it and how it happened will be found out after proper investigation.”
What is Electronic Locking?
Electronic interlocking is an advanced system of signaling equipment that plays a vital role in managing the configuration of railway lines to prevent conflicts between trains. Its primary function is to maintain the safety of train operations by ensuring that signals are not changed out of sequence. The main purpose of this system is to hold the signal for a train until the route has been thoroughly confirmed as safe.
In other words, electronic interlock determines which track a train should use by determining where it is already occupied. The electronic interlocking system uses electronic control systems and computer technology to monitor and control train movements. In this system, sensors and feedback devices are used to detect the presence and location of trains on the tracks. It integrates seamlessly with various other railway systems such as train detection systems, signals, switches and track circuits to ensure the safe operation of trains.
It serves as a modern replacement for traditional mechanical interlock systems, which relied on physical levers and rods for signal and switch actuation.
Thus, by using electronic interlocking, the potential risks of accidents and collisions are intended to be significantly reduced leading to improved safety and efficiency in railway operations. According to the railway department, the machine has a failure rate of 0.1%.
According to the Government Of India, Ministry Of Railways’ Handbook 2021 on Interlocking & Functional Testing of Panel, Route Relay & Electronic Interlocking, “Signal interlocking is believed to be the brain of a signaling system and it is very important in terms of safety in operation of the train. All commands for the operation of signaling devices are processed through the complex network of interlocking connections. However, the safety of train movements cannot be guaranteed unless safety and integrity checks for signal interlock, whether mechanical, electromechanical or electronic lock.”
The minister also said an investigation into the incident was being carried out by the Railway Safety Commissioner.