Answered: Examine the causes behind the rising derailments of trains. What steps can the government take to avoid such incidents?

Train derailments reached a six-year high of 68 in 2016. The recent derailments involving the Indore-Patna, Ajmer-Sealdah, and Hirakund Express in quick succession have brought the issue of railway safety to the limelight again.

The causes behind rising derailments are:

  1. Rail fracture – due to wear and tear of old rails and lack of track renewal due to bottlenecks. Instead of the target of renewing 5000 kms of tracks annually, only 2700 kms was renewed.
    2. Human error – accounts for 70% of all accidents, either due to loco pilots, or at manned railway crossings and other staff-related reasons.
    3. Old signalling systems – Newer systems that automatically halt trains that miss a red light are yet to be adopted by Indian Railways.
    4. Present ICF (Integrated Coach Factory) coaches are accident prone, and there is a need to shift to better coaches.
    5. Coaches are filled beyond capacity, upsetting the dynamics and calculations of train movement.
    6. Weather-related accidents – are frequent as trains are forced to run come hell or high water due to heavy passenger and freight load.
    7. Sabotage by left-wing extremists and terrorists for nefarious means has been highlighted by intelligence agencies and results in accidents.
    8. Research Design and Standards Organization (RDSO) is suffering from underinvestment. This coupled with populist railway policies in the annual budgets over the years has led to massive underinvestment in railway safety.

Steps that the government can take to improve railway safety and avoid such accidents:

The Kakodkar committee on railway safety made a slew of recommendations involving a financial outlay of Rs. 1 lakh crore over 5 years.

The recommendations can improve the condition of Railways. Some important recommendations are –

  1. Removing cross-subsidization (passenger fares are heavily subsidized and freight fares are higher to compensate for the former) and increasing railway fares to improve the financial health of the Railways.
    2. Creation of a statutory Rail Safety Authority with oversight over operations.
    3. Restructuring the RDSO and setting up Railway Research and Development Council (RRDC) directly under the government.
    4. Adoption of Advanced Signalling Systems, akin to European Train Control System.
    5. Eliminating all manned and unmanned level crossings. Setu Bharatam project and Zero Accident Mission have been launched in this regard. The latter also aims to install indigenously-developed Train Collision Avoidance System (TCAS).
    6. Switching from the current ICF coaches to Linke Hoffman Busche (LHB) coaches which are safer and can accommodate more passengers.

Other steps –

  1. Improving innovation in Indian railways to encourage newer ideas in railway safety and awareness. Kayakalp council under Ratan Tata was set up to foster overall innovation in Railways.
    2. Streamlining the workforce – Despite employing over 1.25 million employees, nearly 1.5 lakh safety posts remain vacant. Streamlining and functional autonomy will increase the accountability of the employees while decreasing the financial burden of salaries.
    3. Using GPS Aided Geo Augmented Navigation (GAGAN) for warning, geo-fencing etc.
    4. TRINETRA [Terrain imaging for diesel dRivers Infra-red, Enhanced Optical and Radar Assisted system] is to be installed to improve vision of loco pilots in inclement weather.
    5. Making provisions for immediate first-aid and medical attention to the victims, in order to prevent mortality. The first hour after the accident – called “Golden hour” – is crucial to prevent mass casualties from such accidents.
    6. Raising financial resources to improve safety from land banks, advertising, tie-ups with long term funds such as LIC and pension funds – as suggested by the Bibek Debroy committee.

Indian Railways carries the population equivalent to the size of Australia every day. It is imperative that the safety of the railways be provided sufficient attention, so that the lifeline of Indian transport continues to serve the nation effectively, without a hitch.

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