Coming To Terms With The Senseless Tragedy of India’s Recent Rail Disaster

Caffeinated Thoughts
7 min readJun 9


Trying to process the biggest rail disaster in over two decades.

Photo by Jilbert Ebrahimi on Unsplash

[Trigger Warning: mention of violence and gore]


Stunned. Shocked. Horrified. Appalled. Heartbroken……Numbed?

I am running out of adjectives I could use to describe my present state of mind. The incident took place only 8 days ago. But as new pieces of information keep emerging from various broadcasting channels and news outlets, it feels as though the accident is something happening interminably in a loop over and over again.

India witnessed one of its biggest rail disasters in over two decades last Friday when a passenger express train slammed head on on to a stationary goods train parked on a loop line at a very high speed due to a signalling error. The incident took place a few meters from the Bahanaga Bazar railway station in the Eastern state of Odisha.

Ever since the incident, the social media drip feed has been giving me titbits of the incident all through the week, scanning them from all possible angles. While preliminary findings, ironically, point to an upgradation in the electronic interlocking mechanism of railway tracks (to make them safer) as the cause of the crash, officials are in absolutely no hurry to rush to conclusions and have delayed releasing a final statement detailing the exact cause of the accident.

I’ve been religiously following the news all week. We get two newspapers at home. Then there’s Youtube. There’s also news websites posting to their Facebook and Instagram accounts by the minute. And lastly, there’s Instagram and Facebook reels and stories. All analyzing various aspects of the incident and asking the difficult questions that need to be asked.

Of some of the most recent videos I’ve watched, one of them was of an online news outlet interviewing a survivor who spoke at length about the incident from the minute the train stopped right up till the time he and his fellow survivors realized the full extent of the devastation that had just taken place a few meters ahead of them. The realization that they had escaped becoming a casualty of one of the country’s biggest rail disasters in over two decades by just a whisker was palpable in his tone of voice and facial expressions.

It was only because he was seated in a carriage at the very end of the train that he was able to survive in the incident in one piece and lived to tell the tale.

My mind is still reeling from his narration to the interviewer on how the tragedy unfolded for him:

“ Since the train had rolled to a complete halt after a loud bang, we had no clue about what had happened. But once I got out of my coach with a few others and walked a few meters ahead to investigate, the complete extent of what had just transpired was starting to settle in. The engine of our train had landed on the third last coach of the goods train which it had just rammed into. The next few passenger coaches had derailed. Some of them had completely overturned. There were bodies strewn all across the tracks. People were literally thrown 50 meters away from the train due to the speed and impact of the collision. It was one of the most frightening scenes I’ve ever come across. Someone’s legs were cut off, some people’s arms were severed, some people were beheaded. There was a man who was himself oozing blood from the top of his head trying to get help for his father whose hand was half severed. There were bloodsoaked clothes everywhere.”

As someone who suffers from anxiety and travels by train a handful times in a year, I just couldn’t bring myself to digest the scale and magnitude of what had just happened. Like most Indians, my family are regular train travellers. While my train journeys for treks are few and far between (I usually use buses), some of my family members travel by train quite often. I shudder to even think what would have been my mental state had it been one of them on board that unlucky train.

I’ve always got onto trains with a wobbly toe. I’m not going to lie.

People have tried to reassure me in the past saying that nothing bad will ever happen, and that the railways have been modernized and are well equipped nowadays to prevent any untoward incidents from happening.

But check this.

Each and every single one of the passengers on that ill-fated train thought the very same thing while boarding. They thought their lives were in the best hands. They too got onto that ill-fated train with the firm belief that our railway system is modern, safe, efficient, and that nothing could ever go wrong. They put their utmost trust and faith in the systems built to protect them should anything go wrong! What happened to all their trust and faith eventually? Crushed to dust, isn’t it?

What answer do the authorities have for the injured, the disabled, and most importantly, for the families of those who’ve lost their loved ones for good?

This goes to show that no matter how much technological sophistication we build into our machines and no matter how many tasks we hand over to automation, manual tasks will always have some skin in the game.

Subsequent articles over the days pored over the more finer details; the sad state of the signalling system in the country, the deeply underfunded and understaffed railways department, the rush to modernize the system with faster state-of-the-art trains, the overcrowding in general unreserved compartments (which could have significantly reduced the death toll had it been kept in check), the scarce implementation of the (indigenuously developed) anti-collision system through out the national rail network, and lastly, why such a system wouldn’t have worked anyway in preventing the tragedy had it been installed on that particular train. One Youtuber educated viewers on how the train bogies would have just telescoped into one another on impact had they not been LHB coaches instead of the older ICF coaches, and the number of deceased and injured would have been much higher.

As I type this out, eyewitness and survivor accounts of the incident are doing the rounds on social media. Several families still cannot locate the bodies of their relatives and are crying in front of cameras looking for some kind of consolation. Few of them refuse to even believe that their relative(s) have perished in the accident and are frantically looking for them in hospitals and around the accident site.

Meanwhile, railway workers have worked in record time to restore full functionality to one of the damaged lines, with the first train seen chugging through it barely 48 hours after the incident.

I don’t know how to make any sense of this. I cannot believe that this is happening in this day and age. I can’t even imagine what those who’ve suffered multiple injuries might have gone through; how their reality of moving continuously at a very high speed must have shattered in an instant.

Normalcy? What’s that?

Imagine all those poor innocent souls who’ve been injured and disabled by the accident recuperating at hospitals right now. The track may have been relaid. The train services on that particular route may have resumed. The world might have gone back to normal. But its the lives of those who were on board and those of their loved ones which have been altered forever.

This isn’t remotely “normal” for the hundreds of disabled any more. Someone lost an arm or a leg. Someones broken their bones and are busy getting surgery. Some people’s injuries might be so grave that they might spend the next year in hospital. Someone might go home today but will be in and out of hospitals over the next 6 months, if not more. Someone’s on a wheelchair for life!

This is the new normal for all the survivors of the accident. Amongst those who luckily didn’t suffer any physical injuries, like the guy in the interview, PTSD is most likely going to be a regular feature of their lives. Some of them might never step on a train ever again.


Did this particular incident affect me personally? Nope. Then why am I catastrophizing and making a big deal out of it? Because there’s something called empathy. We can’t all just blindly move on with our lives like nothing’s ever happened. This isn’t something that happened to 1000 people on a train. It’s something that happened to a country, and by extension, to the world.

For a mode of transport that is the lifeline of a country, it sure is going to be very hard to stay away from. Especially when it also happens to be the most convenient and fastest way to get around. After all, millions of Indians are on a train right now in some part of the country or another. We cannot stop living just because of one accident.

But we definitely cannot act like everything is fine and dandy . We have some serious introspection to do before we can ever get to a place of comfort with these complex and sophisticated machines again.



Caffeinated Thoughts

I write about lifestyle, veganism, trekking, and overpopulation.