The school in Balasore, in Odisha, a state in western India, has been turned into a morgue. She welcomed, throughout the weekend, dozens and dozens of bodies locked in plastic bags. They are the victims of the rail collision which occurred on Friday June 2, involving two passenger trains and a freight train. The worst rail disaster in two decades in India. The toll is terribly heavy, 275 dead, more than 1,100 injured, including fifty, very serious.
The passengers were crushed, dismembered, in a shock similar to an explosion. The main train, the Coromandel Express, linking Calcutta to Madras, was traveling at full speed – at 130 km/h – when it collided head-on with a goods convoy stopped at Bahanaga Bazar station. Under the impact, twenty-one cars derailed and three of them were ejected onto an adjacent track, where another passenger train was traveling at the same time.
Railway Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw blamed the accident on a switch problem, but the findings of the investigation are not yet known.
For the families who arrived on the spot, the ordeal is unbearable, DNA samples will be necessary to identify certain victims. The authorities first show them photos of disfigured or charred bodies on a computer screen. If they recognize a relative, they are then authorized to join the school to carry out the identification. Monday morning, two hundred bodies were still not recognized, because most families, poor and distant, could not go immediately to the scene of the accident. Authorities have begun to evacuate the remains to more appropriate locations, such as hospital morgues.
The emotion is immense and the controversy over train safety was quick to burst. The opposition has begun to list the malfunctions and demand accountability from the government for this new accident. Congress President Mallikarjun Kharge taunted Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was still busy inaugurating new trains with great fanfare, he said, paying no attention to rail safety. The very day of the accident, the head of government was preparing to launch a new “Vande Bharat”, an express train between Bombay and Goa. Mr. Modi wishing to show that he offers world-class transport.
This tragedy sheds a harsh light on the poor quality of infrastructure in the country and the lack of maintenance. In a few years, the government has invested 30 billion dollars (28 billion euros) in faster trains, modern stations, the electrification of the network and even a very high-speed train project at exorbitant cost between Bombay and Ahmedabad in Gujarat, the former stronghold of Mr. Modi. But at the same time, spending on programs to improve the safety of existing trains has fallen.
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