What is the lowdown on railway safety?

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What is the lowdown on railway safety?

Frequent Rail Accidents

  • A string of derailments in the last couple of weeks has put the spotlight on rail safety. 

  • On August 19, thirteen coaches of the Haridwar-bound Puri-Haridwar-Utkal Express went off the tracks near the Khatauli railway station in Muzaffarnagar, Uttar Pradesh, claiming at least 21 lives and injuring more than 90.

  • This was followed by the derailment of 10 coaches of the Kaifiyat Express in Auraiya district of Uttar Pradesh four days later, after it collided with a dumper, injuring around 100 passengers.

  • This was followed by the collision of a train with a lorry at an unmanned level crossing in Tamil Nadu’s Villupuram region on the same day.

  • Two carrying passengers and one goods — jumping off the tracks in Uttar Pradesh, New Delhi and Maharashtra within a span of nine hours on Thursday.

  • Two more accidents were averted – one in Uttar Pradesh and the other in Mumbai when rail fracture was detected by the patrolling staff on Thursday.

Some facts

  • Although the total serious train accidents declined from 135 in 2014-15 to 104 in 2016-17, the derailments went up from 63 to 78 during the same period.

  • The share of derailments in total accidents has soared from 46.7% in 2014-15 to 75% in 2016-17.

  • Till August 20 this year, 85% of the total rail accidents happened due to derailments, raising the alarm among authorities.

How did it come about?

  • Unmanned level crossings and derailments due to track defects.

  • According to official figures, track defects had the highest share of around 44% in train derailments between 2012-13 and 2016-17.

  • Derailments can also happen because of the failure of wheel and other train components.

  • In 2016-17, 61.5% of the accidents happened because of the failure of railway staff against 37.7% in 2012-13.

  • The Utkal Express derailment highlighted severe neglect on the part of the local authorities — both maintenance and station teams — in reacting to a broken track.

  • While the track defect was detected early in the day, the maintenance team temporarily joined the tracks while waiting for a nod from the station authorities to get block time to fix it.

  • Soon, the Utkal Express arrived at a speed of 105 km per hour, ran over the track and derailed.

Why Does it Matter?

  • In 2016-17, the total number of casualties in train accidents was at a two-year high of 238, mainly due to the derailment of the Indore-Rajendranagar Express near Kanpur, one of the worst accidents in over a decade, killing 152 passengers and injuring 183.

  • In 2015-16, 122 people died in rail accidents compared with 292

  • In 2014-15 and 152 in 2013-14.

  • The former Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu had announced a ‘Mission Zero Accident’ while presenting his last budget of 2016-17 before the rail and general budgets were merged.

  • With a slew of accidents still taking place, it seems to be a distant goal.

What Next?

  • For the first time in decades, a Railway Board member was sent on leave, having been held responsible for the Utkal Express accident.

  • Former Air India chief Ashwani Lohani has taken charge as the Railway Board Chairman. Mr. Goyal has made it clear that safety will be his top priority.

  • On Thursday, he ordered the elimination of all unmanned level crossings within a year, advancing the deadline by two years.

  • He told officials that the focus should be on replacing tracks prone to accidents instead of laying new lines and asked the Board to expedite the procurement of new tracks on a large scale.

  • He also directed the Board to stop the production of conventional Integral Coach Factory coaches that topple over one another in case of derailments.

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