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Odisha Train Accident: The two possibilities on tracks

A high-ranking Railways representative in the signalling division declared that the point should have been put on the regular line as opposed to the loop line. This cannot occur without manual tampering of the Point Machine, says Defence and Aerospace analyst Girish Linganna

Odisha Train Accident: The two possibilities that exist now
First Published Jun 7, 2023, 7:35 PM IST

The train disaster in Odisha, which took the lives of around 290 people and left nearly a thousand more injured, is increasingly been seen as the result of a malfunctioning signalling system. Railways Minister Ashwani Vaishnaw declared that the root cause of the incident was modifications in the electronic interlocking system.

Vaishnaw attributed the train accident to the point machine and electronic interlocking system, which is a security measure designed to stop trains from colliding. He went on to detail that the electronic interlocking system had malfunctioned, causing the unfortunate event.

The Coromandel Express was given the go-ahead. However, it mistakenly took a left turn to a loop line and collided with a stationary freight train that was carrying iron ore. The goods train was heavily loaded. Jaya Varma Sinha of the Railway Board remarked that the passenger train suffered the brunt of the head-on collision, travelling at a speed of approximately 128 kmph. She declared that the derailed carriages of the Coromandel Express went along the downline and collided with the last two carriages of the Yeshwantpur Express, travelling at a speed of 126 kmph on the Down line.

Questions are being asked about the Coromandel Express train’s collision with the goods train, as it was a straightforward incident of the signalling system not functioning properly. Signals are the primary directions for locomotive drivers to travel at the highest possible speed on the track. This means that station masters inform the engine operators to regulate, progress, or halt by means of the signal.

Prior to the accident, the Coromandel Express was authorized to reach a maximum speed of 130 kmph through the station. If any halt was needed after the green light was given, the station master had to switch the signal to either red or yellow. Yet, how did the train mistakenly enter the loop line holding a stationary goods train?


The cause of the issue could be attributed to faulty or disrupted electrical connections, or to human tampering. When it comes to human involvement, there are two potential outcomes. 

The Station Master was unaware that one of the signalling personnel had either connected the external circuit or it had been tampered with.

No matter the cause of the incorrect signal or route line settings, or any slack in the Station Master’s work, the signal should unfailingly have been ‘Fail on Safe Side’ -- meaning the signal should have automatically appeared red. The Coromandel Express train loco pilot was unable to respond to any red signal by either stopping or slowing down.

In order for loco pilots not to be misled, the railway signalling system should guarantee that a signal given by the Station Master remains valid until it is cancelled by the same Station Master or until the train has passed. Thus, the signal should not be changed to green due to other signal alterations.


Accident Investigations take data loggers into consideration as a form of scientific evidence. This incident, however, has demonstrated that the signalling system at the site of the accident was entirely ineffective, misguided and inaccurate.

Simulated data from the data logger indicated that the Coromandel Express had been given the green light. The Bahanaga Bazar station was provided with electronic interlocking mechanisms. Safe passage of trains through a controlled area is enabled by interlocking, a cornerstone of railway signalling that manages tasks in a yard. 

The signalling system for trains has advanced from the absence of interlocking, to mechanical and electro-mechanical interlocking and, now, to contemporary signalling.

A high-ranking railway representative from the signalling branch noted that the Point (Point Machine) should have been placed on the primary line rather than the loop line. This is not something that could have occurred without human intervention -- the switch being put on the loop line.

The Railway Board member declared that the true cause could be determined only after the investigation was completed.


A Point Machine is a mechanical device used to control the movement of railway points. Points are switches that direct trains onto the correct track. Point machines are operated by signallers, who use them to ensure that trains are routed safely and efficiently.

Point Machines are an important part of railway safety. They help to ensure that trains are routed safely and efficiently, and can help prevent accidents. Thus, they are an essential part of railway signal trafficking, which is the process of controlling the movement of trains on a railway network. Signal trafficking is a complex and safety-critical task and Point Machines play a vital role in ensuring that it is carried out safely and effectively.

There are two main types of Point Machines: manual and automatic. Manual Point Machines are operated by signallers using a lever or wheel. Automatic Point Machines are operated by signals, which are controlled by signallers.

Manual Point Machines are the simplest type of Point Machine and are still used on some railway routes. In the past, Point Machines were typically operated manually. However, they are becoming increasingly rare, as they are more prone to human error than automatic Point Machines. 

Automatic Point Machines are more complex than manual Point Machines but are also more reliable. They are becoming increasingly common, as they can help improve the safety and efficiency of the Railways.

Automatic Point Machines are nothing but a part of the electronic signalling system which uses electrical signals to control them, helping reduce the risk of human error. Additionally, electronic signalling systems can provide more information about the status of points, which can help signallers make better decisions about train routing.


* Increased safety: Point Machines can help prevent accidents by ensuring that trains are routed safely and efficiently

* Improved efficiency: Point Machines can help improve the efficiency of railway operations by reducing delays and congestion

* Reduced costs: Point Machines can help reduce the cost of railway operations by reducing the need for manual labour


* Cost Factor: Electronic signalling systems can be more expensive to install and maintain than manual Point Machines

* Complexity: Electronic signalling systems can be more complex to operate and maintain than manual Point Machines

* Interoperability: Electronic signalling systems from different manufacturers may not be compatible, which can make it difficult to upgrade or expand an existing system

Despite these challenges, configuring Point Machines in electronic signalling is a trend that is likely to continue as the Railways look for ways to improve safety, efficiency and cost-effectiveness.


To configure an electronic Point Machine in a railway station, these steps need to be followed:

Identify the Point Machine: The Point Machine is a device that controls the movement of the points, which are the switches that direct trains onto the correct track. The Point Machine is usually located in a small building near the tracks.

Locate the Control Panel: The control panel is the device used to configure the Point Machine. The control panel is usually located inside the Point Machine building.

Turn on the Power: Before the Point Machine can be configured, the power needs to be turned off. The power switch is usually located on the control panel.

Select the Point: The first step in configuring the point machine is to select the point that needs configuring. The point is identified by a number or letter.

Set Position of the Point: The next step is to set the position of the point. The point can be set to either the normal position or the reverse position.

Lock the Point: Once the position of the point has been set, it needs to be locked in place. The lock is usually located on the side of the Point Machine.

Turn off the Power: Once the point has been locked, the power can be turned off.

It has to be always made sure that the power is turned off before starting to work on the Point Machine. Care must be taken not to touch any of the moving parts inside the Point Machine

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