A month and a half after more than 140 passengers died in a train mishap near Kanpur, the Ajmer-Sealdah Express derailed in the same district on Wednesday morning, causing injuries to over 60 passengers.
Accidents and train derailments are reported routinely on this route.
From 2003 to 2015, 239 accidents have happened on the network of the Indian Railways and 208 of these – or 80% of all accidents – have happened because of derailments, says the parliamentary standing committee report presented last month.
Derailments are mostly caused by “rail fractures” during extreme summer and foggy winter conditions on account of the expansion or contraction of tracks.
“While technology and funding issues are there, the big problem is that adequate time to carry out routine maintenance of tracks is never available as loco pilots (train drivers) are under stress to run more trains in lesser time,” Sanjay Pandhi of the Indian Railways Loco Running Men Organisation (IRLRO) said.
Kanpur is located in between the busiest track of the Indian Railways on the Delhi-Howrah route, which has a train departing from the originating station after a gap of every 9 minutes.
Progress on track renewal and signalling upgrade plans have been slow. Against the requirement of constructing 5,000 kilometers of new lines each year, a target of only 2,700 kilometres has been set in this year’s budget.
A contract to install automatic block signalling devices on the Kanpur-Allahabad route was awarded nearly two years back, but implementation work has not yet begun.
Ultrasonic flaw detection devices available in the inventory of the Indian Railways are capable of “vertical verification” and can detect cracks or rail fractures along the vertical length of tracks, but cannot undertake “horizontal checks”.
Sources said that plans to acquire newer models of these ultrasonic devices that can do both vertical and horizontal checks have remained in cold storage.
Facing a severe financial crunch, the railways in past years have been unable to spare adequate funds for safety works. It moved a proposal earlier this year proposing the creation of a safety corpus of Rs 1,01,700 crore.
The finance ministry suggested that only 30% of the amount could be provided by way of a grant, while asking the railways to raise the remaining 70% by way of passenger ticket surcharge and other means.