In India, trains are again running past the scene of the fatal accident

Usman Deen

Global Courant

A coal train honking in the dark rumbled first past Bahanaga Bazar railway station, the site of one of the deadliest rail disasters in India’s history, when rail lines reopened in both directions after midnight on Monday.

The restoration of the important railway line, overseen by senior train officials and a crowd of onlookers, was a step toward alleviating disruption from the catastrophic accident that killed at least 275 people and injured more than 1,200.

Workers toiled over the weekend to clear the wreckage and repair the mutilated tracks. Authorities allowed some stranded trains, limited to a speed of about six miles per hour, to pass the site on Monday, though two stricken branch lines remained inactive.

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The suspended train service had prevented families of the victims from traveling to the town of the crash, Balasore in Odisha state, and claiming their loved ones. Some had arrived via special train services, others in Monday morning cars provided by their local government. Even more made the grim journey and officials said the focus was now on formally identifying the latest victims.

“Our job is not over yet,” Ashwini Vaishnaw, India’s railway minister, told reporters after the service resumed on Monday. “We must ensure that relatives of the missing people can reach them as soon as possible.”

About 170 of the bodies had been identified on Monday, Pradeep Jena, the chief secretary of Odisha state, said, adding that they were still receiving calls through helplines set up for families of the missing. Mr Jena said officials hoped to reach a final death toll by Monday night, and he said officials are not taking any chances.

“Every document, every hospital, every reconciliation is very important,” he said.

About 100 bodies are still unclaimed. Mr Jena said that in the worst case it could be that some bodies would have to be cremated, although that decision has not yet been made.

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Officials have shared preliminary information about the sequence of events in the three-way accident: At about 7 p.m. local time on Friday, a high-speed train hit a stationary freight train, derailing some cars. The derailed cars then crashed into a second passenger train, the force of the collisions creating a gruesome tangle of broken metal and bodies.

Questions of accountability came on another day when opposition politicians, who have demanded Mr Vaishnaw’s resignation, accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government of not doing enough to ensure safety on the railways.

“Consistently flawed decision-making has made rail travel unsafe and in turn has exacerbated our people’s problems,” Mallikarjun Kharge, an opposition leader in parliament, said in an open letter to Mr Modi, adding that it was “the duty belonged to the government” to find out the reasons behind the incident.

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The railway authorities have asked that the matter be taken up by India’s top investigative agency, the Central Bureau of Investigation, Mr. Vaishnaw Sunday to reporters. The agency typically handles high-profile criminal cases in India, including fraud and corruption, and no details were provided as to why it took on the case.

Officials have focused on the malfunctioning of an electronic signal system designed to prevent accidents as the cause of the crash, but are not ruling out further sabotage. Mr Vaishnaw told reporters on Sunday he would leave it to investigators to share further details.

More than 20 million passengers take India’s trains every day and its rail network is one of the largest in the world. Mr Modi’s government has presided over an overhaul of the network in recent years, with an increase in spending over the past fiscal year and the unveiling of a fleet of new electric trains. But a recent audit found that spending on safety measures is falling, including improvements for more than 13,000 older trains and track maintenance.

Improvements had been made for railway safety in India in recent years, with the number of serious train accidents falling. Rail safety seemed to improve in recent decades, with the number of derailments and serious train accidents falling.

In India, trains are again running past the scene of the fatal accident

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