New Delhi, Jun 4 (EFE).- Indian railways minister Ashwini Vaishnaw said on Sunday that a fault in electronic interlocking or the automatic signaling system was to blame for the collision of three trains that killed more than 270 people and wounded over 1,100 on Friday night in the worst railway accident of the 21st century in the country.
Meanwhile authorities reduced the death toll from the tragedy to 275 from the 288 notified on Saturday, saying some of the bodies had been counted twice.
The accident happened due to a “change that occurred during electronic interlocking,” Vaishnaw told local news agency ANI.
“The cause of the accident has been identified and the people responsible for it have been identified. Right now our focus is on restoration,” the minister added.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi had on Saturday promised severe punishment for those found responsible for the tragedy during a visit to the spot.
The incident took place near Balasore in the eastern state of Odisha around 7.20 pm on Friday when a passenger train derailed and crashed into a goods train, after which another passenger train coming from the opposite direction crashed into wagons of the other trains that had fallen on its path.
Odisha chief secretary Pradeep Jena said on Sunday that after each individual body was counted from hospitals and other points, the number of death toll was found to be 275, instead of the previously announced 288.
“They found that some dead bodies have been counted twice. So, after weeding out those duplicates, the (district) collector has arrived at a final figure that the toll as of 10 am (Monday) is 275,” the official said.
Jena also raised the number of injured to 1,175 from 900 but said that nearly 800 had been discharged from hospitals. The Indian railways said in a separate statement that at least 56 of the wounded remained critical.
Authorities have sped up the work of identifying the bodies – some of which have been mangled beyond recognition – and handing them over to relatives.
A list of wounded passengers admitted to various hospitals as well as photos of some unidentified bodies have been uploaded on official websites to facilitate identification and reunions.
Jena said that by Sunday morning, 88 of the 275 corpses had been identified and 78 had been handed over to the families.
Once the search and rescue operations were concluded on Saturday and the bodies were removed from the site, authorities focused on restoring railway traffic.
Southeastern railways announced that all the 21 train cars that had derailed and overturned in the incident have been removed and the tracks were being cleared.
Authorities have announced a compensation of over $12,000 for the victim’s families, while the seriously injured passengers were given $2,500. A $600 compensation was announced for light injuries.
Opposition parties such as the Indian National Congress have demanded the resignation of the railways minister over the accident and highlighted the lack of sufficient funds for track maintenance as the government has shifted its focus on modernizing the network with semi high-speed trains.
The crash marks the worst railway accident in India in the 21st century.
In 1999, the collision of two trains in the state of West Bengal left 288 dead, while 800 people were killed in 1981 when a train derailed while crossing a bridge and fell into a river in the northern state of Bihar.
India’s railway network is the fourth largest in the world after the United States, Russia and China, with a coverage of over 68,000 kilometers.
It transports around 23 million passengers daily in over 21,600 trains moving through 7,349 stations. EFE