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Horrific train collision in West Java prompts investigations and calls for improvements of infrastructure

A collision between Commuterline and Turangga trains prompts a four-day investigation by KNKT.

Calls for double-track construction and safety improvements gain momentum in West Java.

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INDONESIA – In a devastating incident that unfolded on Friday (5 Jan) morning, a collision between a Commuterline train on the Padalarang-Cicalengka route and a Turangga train on the Surabaya-Bandung route has left four dead and 37 passengers injured.

The National Transportation Safety Committee (KNKT) swiftly launched a comprehensive investigation into the incident, focusing on a stretch of track approximately 800 meters from Cicalengka Station in West Java.

The cause of the accident is suspected to be negligence on the part of the Railway Traffic Controller (PPKA).

However, Ayep Hanafi, the Head of the Public Relations Division at Indonesian Railway (PT KAI) Operations Region 2 in Bandung, West Java, hesitated to confirm this allegation. According to him, the operation of single-track railways requires strict adherence to schedules, and the operational control lies with the PPKA.

A train is passing through the Cicalengka-Haurpugur track after the train accident incident that occurred last Friday (5 Jan). (Photo: KOMPAS)

In response to the tragic incident, KNKT deployed a team of four, including experts, to conduct a thorough investigation.

The investigative activities spanned four days, from 5 January to 8 January, encompassing the collection of factual data and statements from witnesses.

The team also conducted a comprehensive analysis of the contributing factors to the collision and coordinated with relevant stakeholders.

Gusnaedi Rachmanas, the leader of the investigation team, emphasized the importance of collecting various types of data, ranging from physical data such as train data loggers to oral information from witnesses near the accident site.

He stated that if the four-day investigation reveals the need for further action, KNKT will issue immediate recommendations to prevent future accidents. The final report, as per regulations, is expected within one year of the incident.

Aditya Dwi Laksana, Chairman of the Railway Sector at the Indonesian Transportation Society (MTI), commented on the rarity of “head-on collisions” like this one in the past decade.

He attributed the possibility of such accidents to the single-track configuration on the Cicalengka-Haurpugur route. Aditya highlighted technical aspects and other factors such as procedural lapses, human resources, and infrastructure as potential contributors to the incident.

In light of these considerations, transportation expert Sony Sulaksono Wibowo from the Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB) suggested the urgent construction of double-track railway lines.

Sony argued that the use of a single track increases the risk of accidents since long-distance and local trains alternate on the same track. He advocated for the expedited development of double-track lines on the southern route, complementing the existing ones on the northern route.

Sony emphasized that the use of a single track poses a higher risk of accidents compared to double tracks. He explained that, in the case of single tracks, trains, especially long-distance ones, must take turns on the same track. Local trains, on the other hand, wait in designated areas until long-distance trains pass, ensuring a smooth flow of traffic.

In addition to addressing track-related concerns, Sony underscored the importance of improving signaling systems, communication protocols, and other safety measures on single-track sections. He urged authorities to focus on enhancing overall railway safety infrastructure.

Responding to the calls for infrastructure improvement, Bey Triadi Machmudin, the Acting Governor of West Java, revealed that the construction of double-track railways in the accident-prone area would be completed by mid-2024.

According to the Director-General of Railways at the Ministry of Transportation, all double-track projects in Bandung are expected to conclude in the first semester of 2024.

Didiek Hartantyo, CEO of Indonesian Railway (PT KAI), echoed the commitment to enhance signaling systems along the double-track project. He assured that this initiative would cover the entire railway network in the Bandung region, with completion anticipated in the first semester of 2024.

Land acquisition challenges have reportedly been resolved, allowing for the smooth progress of these critical infrastructure projects.

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