Fractured tracks behind most train derailments

The derailment of the Muzaffarpur-Yesvantpur express on Wednesday has once again brought into focus a critical safety aspect: The inability of the Railways to effectively tackle the problem of “rail fractures”.

Rail fractures are defects caused because of the inclusion of gas or impurities while making the tracks.

One person was killed and 33 injured pn Wednesday morning, when 11 bogies of the Bangalore-bound train derailed near Sitheri, 90 km from Chennai.

The prima facie report on the cause of the accident is awaited, but sources indicate it is most likely a case of rail fracture.

In 11 months, from April 2012 to February 2013, as many as 5,443 rail fractures have been reported by the Indian Railways –approximately 500 such incidents each month and 17 each day. Not all the derailments have led to human fatalities.

Indian railways tracks are mostly manufactured at the Bhilai Steel Plant and until some years ago, the processes and specifications for constructing rail tracks were not stringent.

In the process of melting steel to construct the tracks, impurities creep in and bubble up —  causing gaps or defects in the tracks.  “This issue is now being addressed, as more rigorous processes have been evolved to remove the defects. But most of the older tracks are prone to rail fractures,” expert Satish Vaish said.

Parliamentary committees have also upbraided the Railways for failing to strictly follow track maintenance procedures.

Established procedures require that the tracks on mainline trunk routes be examined for defects by Ultra Sonic Fault Detection (USFD) every three months. “But the schedule is usually not followed and the tracks are usually examined only once in six months”, sources said.

The Khanna safety committee report of 2001 had recommended the purchase of German rail cars to locate the growing defects on tracks. “The USFD’s presently being used are not as advanced,” Vaish said.

The Anil Kakodkar-headed high-level safety review committee had recommended the setting up of an independent safety organization. “Presently, the Railways are an operator; a regulator – as also its own safety body,” pointed out Sanjay Pandhi of the Indian Railways Loco Running Organisation.

 

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