Indian railways is the fourth-largest railway network and the world’s eighth largest employer. It is one of the busiest networks in the world.
Railway accidents happen due to several reasons as:
-> An incorrect signal, a mistake or an act of negligence by one of its staff according to NITI Aayog report 6/10 accidents happen due to staff negligence
-> Bulk of the accidents take place at unmanned level crossings and railways currently has over 4,000 such crossings across the country
-> Deficiency in tracks as most of them are very old, and slow upgradation of present coaches, which are nearly 5-7 years old.
-> A rash act by one of the millions of road users and wandering off of cattle and wild animals onto the tracks.
-> Damage of tracks by terrorists, Naxalites and other militant groups.
Problems in the Railway Sector:
-> The traffic load on tracks is going up with new trains being introduced each year along with goods trains and the track renewal is not taking place correspondingly.
-> Inadequate training of the man power. There’s 16% shortage in safety staff. This means that others have to work more and harder.
-> Material defect which may be undetected and under stress leads to accidents.
-> Lack of maintenance of railway assets like tracks and various equipments.
-> Slow pace of technology adoption– lack of Linke Hofmann Busch (LHB) coaches, which have better safety records. The coaches do not mount on each other and derail in the event of an accident.
-> In the present times the focus appears to be on laying new rail lines in place of replacing the old railway lines which may have over exhausted their investment capacity.
-> There has been reluctance on the part of the government to take tough measures to increases the passenger fares which are highly cross subsidised. The railways are under the financial crunch and it is borrowing funds from liaison financial institutions. The government must think of increasing the fares gradually.
-> The government has set a target of investing 8.5 lakh crores till 2019. In the last 10 years there hasn’t been enough investment of funds in the railways.
Safety of Indian Railways:
-> Safety is something where no compromise is ever possible. There should be preference for safety in rail investment. Railways face the twin challenge of safety and sabotage. Railways are vulnerable and when the train runs at higher speed the vulnerability goes up.
-> We are aware that 75,000 kms of rail tracks are old assets and the depreciation fund of the railways was allocated 3,200 crores in the previous budget. The experts say that 25,000 crore each year is needed for the redevelopment of the old assess. In the case of rail fracture, apparently the quality of steel and various aspects are related.
-> There are many passenger trains and UP is seen as the most vulnerable state where more train accidents are taking place. Here we have 700 passenger trains which mean there is continuous running on the tracks and there is no enough time for inspection.
Committees and their recommendations on Railway Safety:
A) Kakodkar Committee Recommendations:
-> The Kakodkar committee on railway safety has stressed on external interference, encroachment and sabotage. One of the recommendations is removal of encroachments in the vicinity of railway tracks should be addressed at the political level in the interest of safety.
-> The Kakodkar Committee recommended that almost 1 Lakh crore rupees should be invested for the safety measures in the railways. This should be used for the renewing the rolling stocks and the tracks.
-> Public Premises Eviction Act should be amended so that eviction of encroachment is easily possible with the help of local railway police forces.
-> Better coordination between Indian railways and the policing authorities.
-> Railways Act should be suitably amended to impose stringent punishment on persons found guilty of sabotage. There has to be a twofold action where the vigilant railway person who can find out the action of sabotage. Many accidents have been avoided by vigilant people. Secondly vigilance on part of law enforcement agencies has been recommended.
-> Railways should defer the dividend payment to the central government so that the funds could be utilised for the safety works.
-> The railways should impose safety cess.
B) Sam Pitroda committee Recommendations:
-> Suggested an ambitious 8 lakh crore modernisation programme for the railways.
-> Suggested modernisation of existing tracks, strengthening of bridges to take high load high speed trains, LHB coaches etc.
Concerns / Challenges:
-> The problem in India is not of safety standards but the execution of standards.
-> There is no “safety department”, which means that the function is overseen by several departments of Indian Railways.
-> “Inter-departmental differences” could reduce efficiency, resulting in delayed response and compromises on safety.
-> Non-availability of funds to create additional capacity and modernise assets.
-> Poor implementation of the recommendations of Anil Kakodkar committee on railway safety
-> Lack of empowerment at the functional level.
-> The government’s subsidised rail fares has left it with insufficient funds to invest in its railways.
-> Overcrowded trains are the clearest symptom of the problem.
-> The organizational set-up of the Indian Railways is also not geared to prioritize safety concerns.
Steps taken by the government to prevent accidents:
-> The ministry of railways intends to invest 8,50,000 crore in the next 5 years for tracks, bridges, rolling stocks, electrification etc. The government is looking at infrastructure building and is considering railways as the foundation of any infrastructure in the country.
-> Rashtriya Rail Sanraksha Kosh (fund) (RRSK) was created in the 2017-18 budget for financing critical safety-related works. The fund was set up with a corpus of Rs 1 lakh crore over a period of five years.
-> In the Railway Budget, 2016-17, the Mission Zero Accident was also announced. It comprises two sub-missions — The elimination of unmanned level crossings (UMLC) along broad gauge tracks in the next three-four years and the Train Collision Avoidance System (TCAS).
-> The government has taken a decision that henceforth only LHB coaches will be produced. The LHB coaches don’t derail or mount on each other.
-> There are 27,181 level crossings in India of which 19,480 are manned and 7,701 are unmanned. Planning has been made to eliminate unmanned level crossings along broad gauge tracks by 2020.
-> Government has launched Setu Bharatam programme which aims to make all National Highways free of railway level crossings by 2019. Under this 208 Railway Over Bridges (ROB)/Railway Under Bridges (RUB) will be built at the level crossings at a cost of Rs. 20,800 crore as part of the programme.
-> Formation of an independent railway regulator called Rail Development Authority (RDA), with an initial corpus of Rs50 crore. ·
-> “Swachh Rail-Swachh Bharat” programme, to replace all the direct discharge toilets in the trains with eco-friendly bio-toilets by 2020-21.
What needs to be done:
-> If country has to progress, its infrastructure part has to progress. The white paper released recently says that only 23% of the network has expanded, whereas 1300% freight and 1600% passenger has expanded. Accordingly the railway assets should be replaced before it gets worn-out.
-> Detecting equipment failure: If there is any rail fracture, it should be immediately sensed so that the train can be controlled in advance.
-> Automatic train control systems to ensure that if the signal is red the brakes apply automatically.
-> Building Rail over Bridges (ROBs) and Rail under Bridges (RUBs) is very important requirement because as traffic increases and speeds go up it is important that the level crossings have to be eliminated to the maximum possible extent.
-> There should be proper inquiry after each accident and guilty should be punished.
-> There should be a tab on number of passengers allowed in a train, overcrowding leads to deterioration of resources employed.
-> Safety drives and greater emphasis on training of officials and inspections at regular intervals.
-> The Linke Hoffman Busch (LHB) coaches must be inducted earliest as recommended by the Anil Kakodkar committee.
-> Adhere to the recommendations of Kakodkar panel report on Railway safety.
Over 20 million people commute in railways on daily basis. This calls for strong attention towards safety and smooth functioning of railways. Derailments decreases the trust of the people in the railways which is the lifeline of Indian transportation system.