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Utkal Express derailment: 10 things to know on safety concerns hounding Indian Railways

More than 20 people died when the Utkal Express derailed in Uttar Pradesh. A look at the safety concerns hounding the Indian Railways.

india Updated: Aug 20, 2017 11:13 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Khatauli‬,‪Uttar Pradesh‬,‪Muzaffarnagar district‬
The railways’ scale of operation is huge: 7,083 stations, 1,31,205 bridges, 9,000 locomotives, 51,030 passenger coaches, 2,19,931 freight cars and 63,974 route kilometres.(AFP File Photo)

The death of 23 people when the Kalinga Utkal Express derailed near Muzaffarnagar in Uttar Pradesh on Saturday will again revive fears that an accident is waiting at every corner of Indian Railways’ network.

A probe has been ordered and compensation for victims announced but that perhaps will do little to end fears that travelling on Indian Railways is unsafe. Here are 10 points to know about safety on the railways:

The railways’ scale of operation is huge: 7,083 stations, 1,31,205 bridges, 9,000 locomotives, 51,030 passenger coaches, 2,19,931 freight cars and 63,974 route kilometres. It operates 19,000 trains each day, transporting 2.65 million tons of freight and 23 million passengers.

As many as 333 people died in 206 train derailments in the last three years, railway minister Suresh Prabhu told Parliament this month. Prabhu said the accidents were “essentially fortuitous” and in account of “six major passenger train derailments in the past three financial years”.

As many as 239 accidents were reported between 2003 and 2015. As many as 208 of these—or 80% of all accidents—happened because of derailments, said a parliamentary standing committee report last year.

The European Union categorises accidents involving five or more deaths in “catastrophic”. By these parameters, a catastrophe has been happening on Indian tracks every now and then.

Finding out the cause of Sunday evening’s derailment will take time, but studies have blamed outdated infrastructure, congestion, and the failure to improve passenger safety for train accidents.

As much as 40% of Indian Railways’ 1,219 line sections are utilised beyond 100%. At least 3,000 railway bridges are more than 100 years old and 32 of these are classified as “distressed” but are still in operation.

India has nearly 115,000 km of railway tracks. The BBC reported in November a 2015 railways ministry assessment recommended “renewing” some 4,500km of track every year. Only 2,100km of tracks were targeted for “renewal” in 2015.

Tracks often “fracture” because of expansion in summer and contraction in winter and have been blamed for 75% of railway accidents.

At least eight committees since 1954 have recommended a slew of measures to improve railway safety, but their reports have been largely ignored. The Anil Kakodkar committee, set up by the ministry of railways in 2011, asked for Rs 1 lakh crore over five years to improve safety and overhaul railway infrastructure. Only 27 of its suggestions were implemented.

This year’s union budget proposed to invest Rs 1.3 lakh crore in the railways in 2017-18. The railway ministry will set up a Rs 1 lakh-crore safety corpus called Rashtriya Rail Sanraksha Kosh, it said.

First Published: Aug 20, 2017 11:12 IST