National

Death on the rails: India’s track record

Data compiled by the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation (MOSPI) reveals that from 2003 to 2015, 3,486 people were killed in railway accidents, with 2015 alone, accounting for 710 deaths.

Data compiled by the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation (MOSPI) reveals that from 2003 to 2015, 3,486 people were killed in railway accidents, with 2015 alone, accounting for 710 deaths.   | Photo Credit: Reuters

Despite establishing itself as the country's prime mode of transport, the Indian Railways has to contend with a dubious safety record

Romancing the rails can be a fatalistic proposition in India. The Indian Railways (IR) is the biggest mover of people and goods in the country with a network spanning over one lakh kilometres and ferrying 22 million passengers every day, making it inevitable for the economic and social wellbeing of this country, But it has to contend with a dubious safety record which has not been helped by a recent spate of major accidents.

Data compiled by the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation (MOSPI) reveals that from 2003 to 2015, 3,486 people were killed in railway accidents, with 2015 alone, accounting for 710 deaths. This is comparable to the mortality rate of vector borne diseases like malaria, which claimed 562 lives in 2014, according to Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare data. Here are some of the numbers that show how the Indian Railways stacks up when it comes to ensuring the safety of the people who travel by it.

Number of casualties is steadily rising

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A total of 710 people were killed, and 1,000 injured in rail accidents in 2015, according to MOSPI data. The number of casualties has been on the rise after reaching an inflexion point in 2010, where the numbers were relatively lower. Data tabled in the Rajya Sabha in response to a question by Rajeev Gowda on March 31, 2017 and August 11, 2017, show that deaths due to derailments for 2016-17 is the highest it has been in a decade.

In spite of repeated attempts to scale up safety through budgetary support, the number of casualties in rail accidents has seen an increase over the years. Arun Jaitley announced the largest ever allocation to the Indian Railways in his budget speech on February 2, 2017. The corpus of ₹1 trillion was envisaged to be spent on a rail safety fund.

It can be argued that budgetary support to the IR has little tangible impact on improving the situation on the safety front. New trains are announced without expanding the existing network of railway tracks. In this year’s rail budget, the Finance Minister announced new trains to cater to passengers on pilgrimage and tourist routes. Adding new trains to an already choked rail network leads to increased congestion, and reduces the time for maintenance of existing lines.

A white paper titled Indian Railways: Lifeline of the nation, published by the Ministry of Railways, concludes that around 40% of India’s 1,219 rail sections are operating beyond capacity. Utilisation of over 90% leads to saturation of the network. Increasing the number of trains plying on such rail sections will minimise maintenance time, expedite the depreciation of existing infrastructure, and render trains more susceptible to collisions.

Northern Railways most accident prone

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In response to Unstarred Question No. 3024 in the Upper House of Parliament, the Ministry of Railways released data on the number of accidental deaths on railway tracks since 2014. A total of 12,669 individuals lost their lives on the rails in the first six months of 2017. This figure is inclusive of accidental deaths, suicides, as well as those for which the IR is culpable, such as collisions and derailments. The total number of such fatalities stayed level over the years, with 25,068 and 25,006 people killed in 2014 and 2015 respectively.

 

 

 

 

In the zone-wise breakdown of accidents, the Northern Railways tops the list with 4,399 accidents in 2016. It must be noted that the Northern Railways is the most expansive zone in terms of track distance, and it is also the most congested. South Central, and Western Railways reported 3,205 and 2,406 accidental deaths in 2016.

Most rail accidents are due to derailment

 

Unsure and unsafe. That's what train journeys have turned into these days. Bogies jump tracks. Speeding engines ram into stationary wagons. The familiar sight of bodies being bundled out of mangled coaches, 'smiling' Ministers announcing ex-gratia and yes, the authorities playing the even more familiar blame game. Can't the railway authorities learn some lessons to ensure safety of passengers, if not punctuality?

Unsure and unsafe. That's what train journeys have turned into these days. Bogies jump tracks. Speeding engines ram into stationary wagons. The familiar sight of bodies being bundled out of mangled coaches, 'smiling' Ministers announcing ex-gratia and yes, the authorities playing the even more familiar blame game. Can't the railway authorities learn some lessons to ensure safety of passengers, if not punctuality?  

 

 

 

Nearly half of all rail accidents recorded since 2011 were caused by derailments, a Railways Ministry white paper shows. Of the 744 accidents that happened between 2011 and 2016, 357 or 47.98% were caused by derailments. The fatality count is the most for derailments and collisions. Railway crossing accidents also amount to a fair share, with 35 documented instances in 2016.

 

 

 

Human error is the prime cause of rail accidents

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s claim that sabotage resulted in the derailment of 14 coaches of the Indore-Patna Express in November 2016 were belied by Gopal Gupta, Director General, Railways, Uttar Pradesh Police. He had said that the accident was caused by “fatigue of the railway track,” and not explosives, as was claimed by the Prime Minister.

While congestion is a major factor, the Railways Ministry found that human error was responsible for the lion’s share of all accidents. Railway staff were culpable for 40% of all accidents from 2010 to 2015, while 45.59% were due to negligence on the part of others who were not contractually attached to the organization.

Sabotage and mechanical failure account for 5.46% and 2.23%. Fourteen cases of train accidents are still under investigation.

How does Indian Railways stack up with global counterparts?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Successive governments have taken refuge behind the fig leaf of statistics to dodge the Railways’ patchy safety record. While accidents and corresponding casualties have been on the rise in recent years, the number of accidents per million rail kilometre has been declining since 2011.

India has reduced its tally vis-à-vis this metric from 0.14 accidents per million rail kilometre in 2011 to 0.10 according to Railway Ministry figures.This presents a favourable comparison with European countries such as Austria, Finland and Portugal, where accidents are likely to happen twice as frequently. However, the number of casualties is much lower.

The European Railway Agency (ERA), which collects statistics regarding the performance of railway networks across Europe have found that 0.35 accidents are likely to occur per million rail kilometres while the figures for Finland and Sweden were 0.31 and 0.23 in 2012-13.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Germany and France, which have high-speed bullet trains, recorded 0.13 and 0.17 accidents per million rail kilometres. Only the United Kingdom, from which the Indian system is a holdover, had a better safety record on paper, with just 0.05 accidents per million rail kilometres.

Why you should pay for quality journalism - Click to know more

Recommended for you
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | Apr 9, 2020 3:07:46 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/death-on-the-rails-indias-track-record/article20551287.ece

Next Story