HomeSocio Legal ColumnKanchanjunga Express Collision: A Detailed Analysis

Kanchanjunga Express Collision: A Detailed Analysis

The Collision: What Happened?

On the morning of 17 June 2024, Kanchanjunga Express, travelling from Tripura to Kolkata, derailed after being hit by a freight train in Siliguri, Bengal. A rescue operation was carried out to help the trapped passengers by NDRF officers as well as civilians[1]. The accident left ten people dead, nine severely injured and more than thirty others injured, as per the latest reports[2]. But the question that arises is- what went wrong?

There was a failure of track circuits due to lightning and thunder in the Darjeeling portion of the railway line. This resulted in failure of automatic signals between the two stations, between which the train was travelling at the time of the accident, at 5.50 am on June 17. Due to failure of automatic signals, and certain miscommunications and non-adherence to procedural norms and rules, both trains- Kanchanjunga Express as well as the freight train- were given permission to move ahead on the same track, resulting in the collision.

This accident was caused not by one major factor, but due to noncompliance with various small procedural intricacies. It could have been avoided at various junctures, if the rules had been followed. We shall explore these rules and try to understand where the responsibility for such instances truly lies.

The Legal Angle

The General & Subsidiary Rules (G&SR) given by the Indian Railways dictate the procedure to be followed with regard to all matters related to automatic signals. These rules also govern the procedure to be followed in cases of failure of automatic signals. When a failure is declared as ‘prolonged’ or ‘likely to last for some time or cause serious delay’, the System of Working changes from Automatic Block System to Absolute Block System[3]. However, the officials in the present situation believed that the signal would be repaired soon and thus, failure on this stretch was not declared a prolonged failure.

A train must stop for a minute at each signal during day time (and two minutes during night), and must travel at less than 10 km per hour between signals[4]. A paper authority (called ‘T/A 912’ under the Rules) as well as a “line clear ticket” is given to trains to pass the signals[5]. In this case, the train had the same authority, even though the freight train was already headed for the same track. The authority was wrongfully granted, both trains being granted the permission to go. However, the ‘line clear ticket’ necessary to move from one station to another was not given to the driver of the freight train.

There is also a provision that in case of failure of block instruments (the automatic signal route in this case), the line clearance is issued by the concerned station master as an authority to proceed[6]. Such clearance was also not granted. It is also procedure that if there is a red light, the loco pilot has to stop the train for a minute and then go ahead at a moderated speed, engaging the horn during this time[7]. But it seems as though the pilot of the freight train did not even slow down.

It is also recommended that trains travel at the speed of 10 km/hr in case of signal failure[8], perhaps to prevent accidents like the one in question. However, the freight train was travelling at the speed of 40-50 km/hr, disregarding the prescribed limit. It must be noted that it is not only the responsibility of the driver but also the section controller, who receives constant speed updates from the speed tracker at each signal, to monitor the speed of the train from the ground station.

Enforcement of Law and Lessons from the Past

It must be questioned how all these violations went unnoticed before the collision. Not only this, but as much as seven trains had previously passed through this signal, the same procedure followed and same rules broken for all of them. This indicates that it is not an occasional mistake, but a routinely broken rule. The only difference is that in this particular instance, the mistake had consequences big enough for them to come into public view. It highlights the gross negligence by authorities and employees at various levels, lack of consequences or monitoring of such negligence, and disregard for the rules created to prevent such accidents.

This is not the first time failure of technical features have led to a train crash. In June 2023, the Coromandel Express train[9] hit a stationary freight train on the loop line at full speed, and the last two coaches of the Coromandel Express fell another train at Bahanaga Bazar, Balasor. This accident resulted in death of about 300 passengers. Even in this case, the report showed that the collision could have been prevented, had the station master reported the unusual behavior of the loop line, and the technical team looked into it. Therefore, when technical difficulties arise, or are even suspected, the burden falls on the human resource to ensure it is reported and corrected.

These are not new instances, and signaling errors are not novel phenomena. As far back as August 1999[10], two trains collided at a remote station in West Bengal, using the same track, with such speed that both trains exploded on impact and killed over 300 people. Technical failures have not been the only cause for train collisions in the past. It can also be attributed to another routinely-seen violation of railway rules- the over-crowding of trains. Both trains involved in the Balasor crash, the Coromandel Express and the Yesvantpur-Howrah were overcrowded[11], increasing the death toll and the injured, and risking safety of all passengers on board. Recently, the issue of overcrowding in Bombay’s local trains is coming to a head, with three people having died due to falling from overcrowded trains at Dombivali station in a fortnight[12].

The negligence towards public safety is not only limited to railways, but also extends to other public structures. A bridge over Bihar’s Bakra river collapsed right before it was to be inaugurated[13]. Unfortunately, it is not the first of its kind. This is the seventh bridge collapse in India since 2023 and the second this year after the country’s largest under-construction bridge collapsed in Bihar’s Sapaul district over Kosi river[14]. The problem of overcrowding extends to bridges as well. In October 2022, a suspension bridge in Morbi, Gujarat collapsed a mere five days after its inauguration due to having 500 people on it at once, despite the capacity being 125[15].

All these instances show how public safety is continuously neglected by authorities through lack of monitoring and regulating use of public services. Rules already exist for these purposes, but they serve no purpose unless they are enforced. There is thus a need for better enforcement of existing rules and laws. But when the lack of adherence becomes the norm, it is difficult to evaluate at what point and through which means such rules are to be enforced, as in the present case.

The Blame Game: Who is at Fault?

The patterns that emerge from such instances show regular negligence and lack of adherence to procedure. They cannot be written-off as a one-time thing, and highlight problems within the functioning of the system itself. For any major accident to happen, there are different levels of hierarchy at which it could have been prevented, had regular procedure been diligently followed. It is not simply a matter of noncompliance, but also of complete lack of any penalties or punishments for the same. It is questionable whether the adherence to such procedure is even monitored by any authorities.

The question then arises who can be held responsible for this collision? There was negligence on behalf of loco pilot of the freight train, who violated too many procedures. The station masters also wrongfully granted the paper authority to two trains for the same track. The section controller also failed in his duty to check speed updates from the freight train. All these personnel must be held liable for their lapses, and further investigation conducted to evaluate how often the relevant rules are violated. It is necessary to ensure, at different levels of the hierarchy, that people are held liable for their lapses, irrespective of the results of such lapses. For this, regular monitoring is also necessary.


While some human error is inevitable, it cannot be allowed to grow to the point where it results in disaster. With an organisation as big as the Indian Railways, it depends on personnel at various levels to do their jobs diligently to ensure safety of the passengers onboard. There can be no lapse in ensuring that these jobs are done as per the desired standards. To ensure this, safety must be taken seriously at all levels, starting from the top. The employees cannot be expected to function at the set standards if there is no visible result or penalty for falling short of them. For this, it is necessary to ensure that their work is monitored, and instances of noncompliance are noted. This can only happen when the Centre takes such incidents seriously, and there is consistent pressure on railway employees to improve. Therefore, such instances can only be prevented in the future if strict and consistent measures are taken and implemented by the Government, holding accountable the personnel at various levels.

[1] Bengal train tragedy: 1st-on-scene villagers say railways, NDRF teams came 2-3 hours after accident, The Times of India, Jun. 18, 2024, (last visited Jun 20, 2024).

[2] R. K. Radhakrishnan, Kanchanjunga Express Train Accident A Result Of Failure At All Levels Of Railway Hierarchy, Frontline (2024), (last visited Jun 20, 2024).

[3] General & Subsidiary Rules, 2020, Indian Governments Railways.

[4] Rule 9.07, General & Subsidiary Rules, 2020, Indian Governments Railways.

[5] S.R. 9.12-3, General & Subsidiary Rules, 2020, Indian Governments Railways.

[6] S.R.5.01-3, General & Subsidiary Rules, 2020, Indian Governments Railways.

[7] Supra 4.

[8] Supra 4.

[9]Paul Scruton, What Caused the India Train Crash? A Visual Guide to What We Know, The Guardian, Jun. 4, 2023, (last visited Jun 20, 2024).

[10] 1981 Bihar to 2023 Balasore train accident in Odisha, here are India’s deadliest rail accidents, The Economic Times, Jun. 5, 2023, (last visited Jun 20, 2024).

[11] Supra 9.

[12] Commuters raise alarm after three passengers fall to their death from overcrowded local trains, The Indian Express (May 4, 2024), (last visited Jun 20, 2024).

[13] Bihar: Portion of newly-constructed bridge over Bakra River in Araria collapses; Video goes viral, The Economic Times, Jun. 18, 2024, (last visited Jun 20, 2024).

[14] Amit Bhelari, Country’s Largest under Construction Bridge Collapses in Bihar; One Killed, Nine Injured, The Hindu, Mar. 22, 2024, (last visited Jun 20, 2024).

[15] Morbi bridge collapse: Kin of victims await justice a year after tragedy, Hindustan Times (2023), (last visited Jun 20, 2024).

Law Wire Team
Law Wire Team
Law Wire Team attempts to delve into pertinent (and sometimes not immediately pertinent) questions regarding socio-politics, Law and their interesting matrix.


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