Balasore accident: Ex-controllers suggest CCTV surveillance for relay rooms, divisional control units

New Delhi: Relay room, that every big or small station has, houses all the equipment and electronic devices and it comes under the Signal and Tele-communication (S&T) department

BY and | Friday, 23 June, 2023

A section of retired chief train controllers has suggested that relay rooms, station control panels and divisional control departments should be brought under CCTV surveillance to enhance safety, minimise laxity on the part of employees and rule out the possibility of sabotage or foul play.

They said that these are the most crucial areas that act as the heart and brain for the rail network but have never been under round-the-clock electronic surveillance. This will remain a chink in the armour of the railways whatever other safety measures it takes, they added.

Their suggestion came weeks after an interference with the interlocking system, which is an automated signalling system, was suspected to have caused a triple train accident in Odisha’s Balasore district which claimed more than 280 lives. Officials had also hinted at “sabotage” and tampering with the electronic interlocking system.

Anil K Bharda, former chief train controller, Mumbai Division, Central Railway Zone, said, “The railways has put CCTV cameras on stations, level crossings and other public areas. However, it has left the most important places out of the purview of surveillance.”

“There are 77 railway divisions in the country and each has one control department. Some divisions like Allahabad have two also and this makes a total of 80 control departments. There is one relay room at every station, big or small, and a control panel under the command of a station master. However none of these is under any kind of camera monitoring,” he said.

Bharda, who served as secretary general of the All India Train Controllers’ Association from 2001 to 2019, is of the opinion that if this had been done in the past, there was hardly any possibility of sabotage, foul play or short-cut measures by the railway staff.

Former chief controllers say that the control department is the centre of all activities and it coordinates with all other departments of a railway division.

“It is the first point of contact if any issue arises in any train and brought to the notice of the chief train controller. It is he who decides which train to go first and which one to be put on hold. If a train driver falls sick or a passenger needs medical attention, everything is first conveyed to the control department which coordinates with other departments to resolve the issue,” M M Ansari, Former Chief Controller, Mughalsarai Division, North Eastern Railway, said.

A controller from one of the railway divisions, who did not want to be identified, agreed with Bharda and said that CCTV surveillance for the control department is essential to keep the staffers alert and watchful.

“Often senior officers put pressure on controllers and force their decisions on them in times of crisis and emergencies which are against the norm. I hope that electronic surveillance will stop it,” he said.

Chandan Chaturvedi, Secretary General, All India Train Controllers’ Association, said, “I cannot say that CCTV surveillance would have served any purpose in Balasore. However, I agree that this kind of surveillance is required at relay rooms and control departments as it will keep all the officers on their toes all the time and chances of any laxity minimize.”

Controllers say that there is a laid down norm that a relay room can be opened with the permission of the station master only but there are instances of this norm being bypassed for short-cut measures.

“Electronic surveillance will stop all these things and ensure compliance with norms in a real sense,” Bharda said.

Relay room, that every big or small station has, houses all the equipment and electronic devices and it comes under the Signal and Tele-communication (S&T) department.

“The S&T staff opens the relay room with the permission of the station master only when any technical issue comes up,” Chaturvedi said.

“Since everything is automated, in normal course, there is no need to open the relay room. A station master can give the command and the system works accordingly,” he said.

Chaturvedi explains that if a chief train controller decides that a train has to be put in a loop line to give way for another train coming from behind, he will convey it to the station master.

“The station master can issue a command on the control panel and the interlocking and signal system work in an automated process. It is a foolproof system and unless some manipulation happens, things never go off the track,” he said.

As far as the Balasore accident of June 2 is concerned, the initial investigation shows that the accident happened because the Coromandel Express was given green signal to run on the main line but the interlocking of the track was done for the loop line on which a freight train was already stationed.

Coromandel Express came on the loop line, hit the freight train and its coaches fell on the adjacent track and hit the Bengaluru-Howrah Superfast which was crossing at high speed.

Bharda said, “The interlocking and signal systems are automated but it can be sabotaged with human interference. The automated system is such that if the interlocking is not properly done, the green signal will not appear.”

“However, with human intervention, the system can be manipulated and green signals can be manually switched on even if interlocking is improper,” Bharda said, emphasizing that CCTV surveillance can make things more secure and safe.

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