Indian officials on Friday arrested three railway workers in connection with a deadly train crash last month that left at least 290 people dead and once again highlighted safety problems across a vast train network that serves as an important lifeline for the poor.
India’s Central Bureau of Investigation, which is leading the criminal inquiry into the train accident in the eastern state of Odisha, said the workers were arrested on charges of endangering the safety of passengers, culpable homicide without murder, and tampering with evidence.
In a statement, the agency identified the three as a senior section engineer, a section engineer and a technician. The “investigation is continuing,” the agency said.
The Coromandel Express, which was traveling from West Bengal, crashed into a parked freight train in Odisha at a speed of 80 miles an hour, resulting in a three-way tangle with another train that was passing in the opposite direction.
The majority of the dead came from three general coaches, where India’s poorest — often laborers in search of economic opportunity — pack in shoulder to shoulder, traveling large stretches of the journey standing.
Immediately after the crash, officials said the cause was a signal failure — that the Coromandel Express, arriving at the station at full speed, had received a green signal to proceed onto a loop line that should have been blocked. Whether the cause was technical failure or human error was left to investigators.
The accident became the subject of at least two separate investigations — a criminal one by the C.B.I., and a technical one by the country’s commissioner of railway safety.
While officials have not released the findings of the railway’s technical investigation, copies leaked to Indian news outlets suggest that repeated red flags were missed. Among the irregularities were incorrect labeling of the wiring inside the signal box that had remained undetected for years, news reports said.
In recent years, India has dramatically expanded investment in its public infrastructure, building new highways and airports. The spending on the railway system — one of the largest in the world, with more than 20 million passengers riding daily — has also increased by about eightfold compared with about a decade ago. The country has been introducing new trains and building new tracks. The overall number of major rail accidents has fallen in the past decade.
But Indian officials have acknowledged that railway upgrades, maintenance and expansion have lagged behind, leaving the service still vulnerable to mass casualty disaster.
The railway system remains so congested that about 6,000 miles of its central and most important “trunk routes” are operating at 125 percent capacity, according to official government data.