Tragedy on rail tracks flags uphill battle - Hindustan Times
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Tragedy on rail tracks flags uphill battle

ByHT Editorial
Jun 19, 2024 02:23 AM IST

As India moves on the track to modernise the railways, safety will remain the true gauge of the effort.

The 10 lives lost in the crash in Rangapani, West Bengal, early on Monday are a tragic reminder of how railway safety continues to challenge the Indian Railways (IR). Just over a year after the worst rail accident in three decades – the Coromandel Express crash in Odisha on June 2, 2023, that claimed 296 lives – a freight train rammed the Kanchanjunga Express. Early reports suggest that a combination of signal failure and human error caused the accident. However, IR documents show that the automatic signalling system between stations before New Jalpaiguri, some 30km from the crash site, had failed. While the rules for passage in such situations limit train speeds to within 10km per hour in the event of rain – which was the case on Monday – the freight train driver was said to have been in breach of this.

Indian Railway engineers inspect the accident site of Kanchenjunga Express passenger train at Rangapani in India's West Bengal state on June 18, 2024. At least eight people were killed in India on June 17 when a goods train driver missed a signal and slammed into an express passenger train from behind, police and railway officials said. (Photo by DIBYANGSHU SARKAR / AFP) (AFP) PREMIUM
Indian Railway engineers inspect the accident site of Kanchenjunga Express passenger train at Rangapani in India's West Bengal state on June 18, 2024. At least eight people were killed in India on June 17 when a goods train driver missed a signal and slammed into an express passenger train from behind, police and railway officials said. (Photo by DIBYANGSHU SARKAR / AFP) (AFP)

The final Commissioner of Railway Safety (CRS) probe report should make things clear. But the fact that signalling error continues to be a pain point for the Railways underscores the gaps that remain in modernisation of the rail system. To be sure, there has been significant progress made over the last two-and-a-half decades. For one, the Kavach automatic train protection system, among other factors, has helped to bring down train accidents. As per government estimates, accidents per million train kilometres have declined from 0.1 in 2013-14 to 0.03 in 2021-22. The Railways is yet to operationalise this on the Delhi-Guwahati route – only 1,500km of the 68,000km railway network has been secured so far with Kavach, which was operationalised in July 2020.

As India moves on the track to modernise the railways, with a focus on faster trains and enhanced passenger experience, safety will remain the true gauge of the effort. The Railways need to revamp wearing tracks, rickety bridges and signalling systems for this crucial mass transport system to achieve a zero-accident record.

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