Context

  • The recent derailment mishap of Utkal express at Khatauli calls for a quick and a larger safety elevation

What makes train travel so unsafe in India?

Derailment

  • Derailment seems to be the most common cause for train accidents. Reports of the Railway Ministry for 2015 and 2016 list a conflicting number of derailments in 2014.
  • The number of derailments that took place in 2015 are greater than those in 2014, according to the 2016 report

Rail fractures

  • Rail fractures are caused by extreme weather that causes tension on railway tracks.
  • What makes rail fractures even dangerous is the fact that they are not very apparent as even with ultrasonic detection
  • Rail fractures occurrence may increase during night time especially during winters when temperature is low.

Corrosion

  • Corrosion is another reason that may lead to accidents. Tracks that are 1-2 year old are more prone to track accidents

Overcrowded train coaches

  • Coaches filled beyond capacity are also a hazard as any overloaded vehicle is severely susceptible to toppling over.
  • Some coaches have been made at the Integral Coach Factory (ICF) and are infamous for piling up on collision.
  • Stainless steel Linke Hoffman Busch (LHB) coaches are more efficient at shock absorption and can reduce incidents of derailment.

Why In the news?

  • Thirteen coaches of the Puri-Haridwar Utkal Express derailed at Khatauli, near Muzaffarnagar in Uttar Pradesh, killing at least 23 people.
  • Nearly 70% of the 303 rail accidents reported between 2012-13 and 2015-16 were caused by carelessness of railway staff, which includes shortcuts in maintenance work and failure to heed safety norms.
  • The Railways has over 1.14 lakh km of tracks, but their renewal, the Ministry told the Parliamentary Committee on Railways, depends on the financial resources allotted in a given year rather than the length of tracks that need refreshing
  • A five-year corporate safety plan, first announced in the Rail Budget for 2015-16, has been drafted, but is yet to be approved.
    Problem with the execution
  • Since 2012, six of every 10 rail accidents in India have happened because of mistakes by or the negligence of railway staff, according to a study by NITI Aayog.
  • In the year to 31 March 2017, 66 of 104 consequential rail accidents were attributed to failure of railway staff according to Indian Railways data.
  • Indian Railways has divided its 66,030 km of track into 1,219 sections and out of these 492 are running at 100% capacity, in some cases more. Most accidents occur on these over-capacity routes.

Counter measures

  •  The railway ministry has already initiated measures like inducting modern coaches, creating a safety fund as well as incorporating new technology to not only plug accidents due to derailments, but also to reduce casualties.
  • The national transporter will invest Rs 15,000 crore in the current fiscal (year) to fix the snags on its network.
  • Railways has 1,22,911 vacancies in safety categories and a shortage of another 17,464 loco running staff.
  • The railways has ramped up considerably its maintenance technology which is also quicker but insufficient headway remains a concern.
  • The number of trains keeps rising while the track length does not increase accordingly
  • Two key projects launched in 2005 are the 1,504 km-long western dedicated freight corridor (DFC) and the 1,318 km-long eastern DFC, roughly corresponding to the overworked Mumbai-Delhi and Howrah-Delhi lines where the utilisation varies between 115 per cent and 150 per cent, according to the India Spend report.

Mission Zero accident

  • Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu had launched ‘mission zero accident’ in the 2016-17 Rail Budget for carrying out a special drive to curb accidents.

Crossings

  • In the 2016-17 fiscal, the railways eliminated 1,503 unmanned level crossings and 484 manned level crossings by constructing road over-bridges and under-bridges.

Additional security

  • The Rashtriya Rail Sanraksha Kosh, a special safety fund, was created in the 2017-18 budget with a corpus of Rs. 1 lakh crore over a period of five years for financing critical safety-related works.
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