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More than 300 deaths, 12 train derailments, fire incidences and thousands of injuries in past two years: Indian Railways has a lot to answer for

Even a single fatality is one too many and therefore, the Indian Railways has an uphill task on its hands—institute mechanisms in place to ensure there are no mishaps in future and no loss of life caused due to them.

In a tragic train accident on Monday (17th June 2024), at least 8 passengers lost their lives and over 25 people sustained injuries after a goods train rammed into the Kanchenjunga Express train in West Bengal’s Darjeeling district. Visuals from the site showed a wagon of Kanchenjunga Express train suspended in the air. Sources in the Railways said that the goods container train overshot the signal and hit the rear parcel coach of the Kanchanjunga Express.

Officials are reviewing the situation, the Railway officials said. The accident took place at the Rangapani area in the Katihar Railway Division ahead of New Jalpaiguri Junction at around 8:45 am today. 

The tragic incident has once again brought the safety of passengers into the limelight and added to the harrowing list of train disasters in the last two years.

  • 2 coaches of Suheldev Superfast Express derailed in October 2023, thankfully no casualties were reported

On 31st October 2023, Train number 22433, Suheldev Superfast Express which was heading towards Anand Vihar via Ghazipur derailed minutes after exiting Prayagraj Junction. As per reports, four wheels of the train’s generator-cum-SLR (seating cum luggage rake) coach derailed in the incident. 

The incident unfolded at around 8:53 PM when the train was still in the Prayagraj Outer area and was travelling at a very low speed. Due to this, no injuries were reported despite the derailment. As per Railway officials, the train later proceeded on its journey. However, a four-member probe committee was constituted to submit a report regarding the derailment.

  • Collision near Vizianagaram district in Andra Pradesh claims the lives of more than 9 people, four coaches derailed

On 29th October 2023, at least nine people lost their lives and several others were injured after two passenger trains collided near Alamanda-Kankatapalli in Vizianagaram district, Andhra Pradesh. As a result, four coaches derailed after the passenger train travelling from Vizianagaram to Raigad hit a passenger train bound for Palasa from Vishakapatnam, which was travelling on the same route.

As per reports, a preliminary railway probe into the train accident in Andhra Pradesh held the driver and the assistant driver of the Rayagada Passenger train responsible for the collision, as it passed two defective auto signals in violation of norms. Both crew members were killed in the accident. 

  • 6 coaches of Delhi-Kamakhya NE Express derailed near Bihar’s Buxar, 4 passengers died, and over 40 injured

On 11th October 2023, six coaches of Train Number 12506, the Delhi-Kamakhya North East Express, derailed near the Raghunathpur station in Bihar’s Buxar district. The accident claimed the lives of four passengers and left over 40 passengers with serious injuries. The tragic incident occurred at around 9:53 pm.

  • EMU Train climbs platform at Mathura Junction, 1 injured as passengers had already de-boarded the train

On 26th September 2023, an electric multiple unit (EMU) train climbed onto a platform at Mathura Junction, injuring one person. The train was coming from Delhi, and the passengers had already de-boarded before the incident occurred. However, when another railway staff member proceeded to park the train, it picked up speed, broke the stopper, and climbed onto the platform.

  • 13 wagons of two freight trains derailed near Bankura, West Bengal, no injuries reported

On 25th June 2023, around 13 wagons of two goods trains derailed after two locomotives collided near West Bengal’s Bankura at around 4 am. As per reports, one of the goods trains hit the other from behind, causing several wagons to derail. The incident took place at Onda station. Railways officials said that no one was injured in the incident.

Divisional Railway Manager (DRM) of South Eastern Railway’s Adra Division, Manish Kumar said, “This accident happened due to the mistake of the driver (of the moving goods train). It seems that he fell asleep and didn’t see the red signal to stop.” He added that a probe will be held to pinpoint the cause of the incident.

  • One coach of an EMU train derailed near Basin Bridge railway station in Chennai, no injuries were reported

On 11th June 2023, the last coach of an EMU train derailed near Basin Bridge station, however, no injuries or casualties were reported. The Chennai suburban local train was heading towards Tiruvallur when it derailed near Basin Bridge railway station, 10 minutes after it left Dr. MGR Chennai Central station. Although several passengers were gripped by panic, railway officials confirmed that no one was injured since only two wheels of one coach had gone off the tracks.

It was the second derailment within the span of just one week.

  • Two wheels of the Jan Shatabdi Express derailed, no injuries were reported

Two wheels of the Jan Shatabdi Express derailed near the Basin Bridge workshop in Chennai on 9th June 2023. Officials said that no injuries or casualties were reported in the incident. The Jan Shatabdi Express, arriving from Vijayawada, had already disembarked passengers at Puratchi Thalaivar Dr MGR Chennai Central station. As it was proceeding towards the Basin Bridge yard, two front wheels of one coach derailed. The incident occurred around midnight when the train cars were unoccupied. Railway police are currently investigating the incident alongside the locomotive pilot and other railway personnel.

  • 2 coaches derail near Tamil Nadu’s Coonoor, no injuries were reported in ‘minor’ incident

On 8th June 2023, two coaches of a train heading to Mettupalayam from Ooty derailed near Coonoor in Tamil Nadu. Fortunately, there were no reports of any passengers getting injured in the incident, which officials had termed as minor.

  • The infamous triple train accident in Odisha’s Balasore district claimed the lives of over 293 people, injuring another 1,200 passengers

The Balasore triple train accident took place, on 2nd June 2023, when the Chennai-bound Coromandel Express entered the loop line at the station instead of going straight on the main line. Subsequently, it rammed into a stationary goods train at full speed. Its derailed coaches hit the Yesvantpur Superfast Express which was just passing the station. It was evident that the signalling was wrongly set for the train at the station. This triple train accident at Bahanaga Bazar station near Balasore in Odisha claimed over 293 lives and injured over 1,200 passengers.

  • Coach of Chennai-Bengaluru double-decker train derails near Kolar, no passengers were reported injured

A coach of the double-decker train from Chennai to Bengaluru derailed at Bisanattam on the Karnataka-Andhra Pradesh border, near Bangarpet in Kolar district on 15th May 2023. 

  • Mumbai-Jodhpur Suryanagari Express Train derails In Rajasthan, 11 coaches impacted, no injuries were reported 

On 2nd January 2023, eleven coaches of the Bandra Terminus-Jodhpur Suryanagari Express were affected by a derailment near Pali, Rajasthan. 10 passengers were reportedly injured in the incident which occurred at 3:27 am between the Rajkiawas-Bomadra section of the Jodhpur division. Officials later stated that a ‘rail fracture’ was the cause of the Suryanagari Express derailment.

  • 11 coaches of Pawan Express derailed near Nashik, two passengers were injured

On 3rd April 2022, eleven coaches of Train Number 11061, LTT-Jaynagar Express derailed between Lahavit and Devlali (near Nashik) on the Dn line. The incident occurred at 3:10 pm on Sunday.

In a statement, the CPRO, said, “2 minor injuries in train derailment in Nashik. Both are given primary treatment, not required to be hospitalized. No one else is reported to be injured, no deaths either. One body found near tracks is not of a passenger, & is believed to be there before the derailment.”

Apart from collision and derailment, the Indian Railways has suffered multiple incidents of tragic fire accidents due to technical reasons, causing another area of concern regarding passenger safety. Here is a list of several fire accidents (excluding ones where passengers were found to be responsible for the mishap) that took place in the last two years.

  • Twin fire accidents were reported in passenger trains in less than 12 hours in November 2023, injuring over 29 passengers

Two horrifying fire incidents were reported within less than 12 hours in November 2023, resulting in 29 passengers suffering serious injuries. On 16th November last year, a fire erupted in the S-6 coach of the Delhi-Saharsa Vaishali Superfast Express (12554) in Uttar Pradesh’s Etawah, injuring at least 21 passengers. The cause of the fire was under investigation. The incident occurred around 2:40 am while the train was traveling from New Delhi to Saharsa, Bihar, passing through an area near the Friends Colony police station.

It is pertinent to note that this was the second incident within 12 hours. A day earlier, at around 5:30 pm, a fire broke out in the New Delhi-Darbhanga Special Express train, damaging three coaches and injuring eight passengers. 

  • Fire erupts in Shri Ganganagar Express train, likely due to short circuit, no injuries were reported

On 23rd September 2023, a fire broke out in the generator coach and an adjacent passenger car of the Shri Ganganagar Humsafar Express shortly after it departed from Valsad railway station in Gujarat. The train was halted and all the passengers were deboarded. As a result, no one was reported injured in the fire incident. The fire originated in the power coach, possibly due to a short circuit, and spread to the adjoining B1 coach. Superintendent of Police Karanraj Vaghela had confirmed that the fire was contained.

  • 7 boogies of Falaknuma Express caught fire near Yadadri district in Telangana, no injuries were reported

Reportedly, 7 coaches of Falaknuma Express caught fire while the train was crossing the Yadadri district of Telangana on 7th July 2023. The train was coming from Howrah and heading towards Secunderabad. The fire was reportedly caused by a short circuit. DGP said, “Police, Fire Dept, and Railways are working in coordination. So far, no fatalities have been reported. Out of 18 coaches, 11 are detached and taken away safely. 7 bogies caught fire, out of which fire is extinguished in 3 bogies as of now”.

  • A fire broke out on the Lokmanya Tilak Express train due to friction in a high-voltage power line, no injuries were reported

On 22nd Jun 2023, a coach of Lokmanya Tilak Express from Chennai to Mumbai caught fire near Vyasarpadi station due to friction in a high-voltage power line. No injuries or casualties were reported.

Reasons for the mishap and possible safety measures that can mitigate risk to a greater extent

Most of the train mishaps in India take place because of human error or outdated equipment. As per official data, derailments have been the biggest cause of rail accidents. According to The Quint, level-crossing incidents ranked second, with fires and collisions following closely in third and fourth positions respectively. 

(Consequential accidents have declined over the years, a lot more has to be done, Image Source – ORF)

Fortunately, official data also points out that derailments and consequential accidents have been on a decline in recent years. Consequential accidents are incidents caused by operational lapses, such as derailments, collisions, and fires.

(Department-wise responsibility breakup for consequential accidents and areas of concerns to mitigate deaths, Image Source – ORF)

As per the News18 report, the Commission of Railway Safety data showed that 292 accidents between 2017-18 and 2022-2023 were derailment (75%). The data pointed out that 55% of the train accidents between the period between 2017-18 and 2021-22 were caused by “railway staff error”. As per IndiaSpend, a 2022 CAG report noted that “7 in 10” railway accidents between 2018 and 2021 came due to derailments.

(Image Source – Factly)

As per a government railway safety report for 2019-20, derailments accounted for 70% of railway accidents. After analysing 40 derailments, the report attributes 17 derailments to track defects, which could include track fractures and subsidence. Additionally, nine derailments were caused by defects in trains such as engines, coaches, or wagons.

The CAG report identified several factors contributing to derailments, such as track defects, maintenance deficiencies, outdated signaling equipment, and human errors. It highlighted that 26% of accidents resulted from insufficient funding or underutilization of available funds for track restoration. 

Incidentally, Official data assert that Human error was behind most rail accidents in the last three decades. Examples of human errors include overspeeding, passing signals despite danger, carrying out maintenance without getting a proper block of stretches, poor maintenance of equipment, etc.

NITI Aayog found human failure, including the fault of railway staff, to have caused 87% of the 586 consequential accidents recorded between 2012-13 and 2016-17. The share of fault of railway staff in accidents has only grown incrementally on a year-on-year basis. 

temperature changes. These measures include tightening components and replacing sleepers. Track inspections, including by specialised cars, are necessary for assessing track geometrical and structural conditions, as noted in a federal audit report on derailments from April 2017 to March 2021.

However, the report highlighted deficiencies in track-recording car inspections, ranging from 30% to 100%. Analysis of 1,129 derailment investigation reports identified around two dozen contributing factors, with track maintenance issues (171 cases) being predominant, followed by deviations from permissible track parameters. Mechanical issues accounted for over 180 derailments, with a significant portion attributed to defects in coaches and wagons. Additionally, poor driving practices and excessive speeds were significant factors contributing to derailments.

As the Railway tracks are made of metal, they require regular maintenance because of routine wear and tear. The focus of the administration should be on not only optimising the human resources to avoid mishaps but also undertaking periodic surveys of tracks and bridges to ensure accidents are averted.

The 2022 CAG report highlighted a significant rise in signal density across Indian Railways, noting that loco-pilots encounter signals nearly every kilometre and minute of their journey. However, the report emphasized a lack of technological aids for loco-pilots, necessitating their reliance on vigilant signal monitoring, thereby increasing the risk of accidents. 

The railways’ safety directorate noted that even under “optimum field conditions and with the best of intentions, a human being is likely to commit a mistake from time to time”. However, it also stressed that human technical safeguards and backups can’t replace human efforts, as in many cases, complacency based on technical support has resulted in mistakes.  

Several reports on Railway safety state that the railway authorities asking their senior manager to “critically analyse long working hours of the crew, especially in East Coast Railway and South East Central Railway, and take corrective action urgently”.

Measures taken so far that need to be ramped up further

Official documents detail measures to “eliminate human failure” in train operations, including a computer-based electronic interlocking system and a European technology-based signalling system to prevent accidents caused by human error or speeding. Additionally, the Kavach anti-collision system, designed to prevent overspeeding and signal violations, has been introduced but is currently active on only 2% of India’s rail network.

Passenger safety measures include the rollout of superior Linke Hofmann Busch (LHB) coaches, which experts say helped reduce casualties in the Balasore accident. Many conventional coaches have been replaced with LHB coaches, known for their enhanced safety, stability, and speed.

Experts emphasize the need for India’s railway system to prioritize safe tracks and collision protection. Key improvements include upgrading traffic facilities, rolling stock, tracks, signal and telecommunication networks, and building road over/under bridges at level crossings. Additionally, addressing lapses by railway staff through skills enhancement is crucial, with over 300,000 non-gazetted officers having undergone refresher training.

Furthermore, the Railways, which has been investing in anti-collision systems, centralized traffic control, train management systems, signalling, bridge inspection and management, increased nighttime footplate inspections, and public engagement through safety awareness campaigns, must accelerate its efforts to achieve the ambitious goal of ‘Towards Zero Deaths.’

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Paurush Gupta
Paurush Gupta
Proud Bhartiya, Hindu, Karma believer. Accidental Journalist who loves to read and write. Keen observer of National Politics and Geopolitics. Cinephile.

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