On April 19, 2019, Indian Railway saw a freak, probably one-in-a-million accident happen near Bengaluru suburb Channasandra.
The 12786 Mysuru Kacheguda Express had a rather uneventful, routine run from Mysuru. As the train passed Baiyappanahalli and neared Channasandra, it happened; The train parted – this is nothing new and fairly common for trains to part. What is freaky about this is that the toilet area of the B2 coach broke and fell down on the tracks, coupler and bio-toilet and all.
The train ground to a halt due to some smart and immediate action by the LP. This fact came to light only after a closer look – most passengers and crew thought it was a derailment when they heard the noise and the subsequent, almost immediate, screech to a halt.
“The underframe that had the attached bio-toilets, buffers and the couplers just broke off the coach and infringed the tracks,” says Karthik M V, a railfan from Bengaluru. He was at the spot about 20 minutes after the incident, and adds, “the debris was pushed by the subsequent coaches for just about a few metres before the train ground to a halt.”
According to him, what also helped was that trains have to move at a restricted speed of 15 kilometres per hour on that section of the track. “This helped in the quick halting of the train – if this had occurred just 500 metres ahead, the train would have been considerably faster and the damage would have been more,” he opines. The maximum permissible speed for trains, after the curve into the station, is 105 kmph.
“I have never seen anything like this,” says a railway officer in charge of a coaching depot, requesting anonymity. A coaching depot is a place where the coaches undergo a series of maintenance routines known as the Primary Maintenance, approximately every 3000 kilometres or a specified number of trips.
“The area that broke off is a crumple zone, designed to absorb most of the impact in the event of a collision,” the officer.
Most people we spoke to – rail officials and rail enthusiasts – concurred that the accident was very rare.
Another officer we spoke to was categorical that these structural flaws cannot be detected during the primary maintenance cycle. “All coaches undergo what we call Periodic Overhaul (POH) once in 18 months. During this overhaul, the coach is lifted from the undercarriage and both sections are thoroughly inspected, even with ultrasonic flaw detecting devices.”
“All flaws are fixed and necessary tests carried out before the coach is put to service after the POH is complete,” he added.
Indian Railways prescribes a codal life of 25 years for its coaches before they can be condemned. However, coaches with structural compromises are condemned much earlier considering that passenger safety is paramount. The coach in question, according to internal sources, had three more years of its codal life and was through a comprehensive POH in February 2019, just a couple of months ago.
Coaches also undergo what the Railways call Mid-Life Rehabilitation (MLR). The Coach Rehabilitation Workshop in Nishatpura near Bhopal undertakes this activity.
During MLR, the entire coach is stripped to the bare. The bogie assembly and sub-assemblies are repaired, reclaimed, or replaced as required by safety norms. Overhauling activities includes heavy corrosion repair to the shell body and underframe, stripping and renewal of furnishing, train lighting and painting.