Unanswered mystery behind the fatal Rail Accidents in India

June 5, 2023

The primary cause of the fatal several train collision in India, which took place on Friday night and caused the death of 288 individuals and left more than 800 wounded, is still an unanswered mystery.

A three-way crash occurred close to a small station in the eastern Indian state of Odisha, involving two express passenger trains and a freight train, according to reports. One of the express trains collided with the stationary freight train, causing its carriages to flip over onto a third track that an incoming train was travelling on, leading to its derailment. An initial investigation indicates that the accident was due to a failure of the signal system.

An extensive investigation is necessary in order to get to the bottom of this incident. This has raised new worries about the safety of the railways in India. 

India's colossal railway system - among the biggest on the planet - ferries around 25 million riders daily across a vast network of tracks over 100,000km (62,000 miles). According to Railway Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw, in the last year 5,200km of new tracks were constructed. The minister additionally declared that 8,000km of tracks are being improved each year. 

During a conversation, Mr. Vaishnaw indicated that most of the railway lines were being improved so that they could support trains travelling at 100 km/h. Additionally, he noted that a large portion was being improved to manage 130 km/h and a notable segment was being equipped for the purpose of accommodating trains running at up to 160 km/h. 

It is clear that the government has made plans to make faster trains accessible throughout the nation - a distinct high-speed railway is in the process of being constructed between Mumbai, the financial capital, and Ahmedabad. 

Vivek Sahai, a former Railway Board chairman, expressed to me that derailment is still an issue that plagues the railways. Causes of derailment can include a multitude of elements such as poorly maintained tracks, faulty coaches, and operator errors. 

In the government's railway safety report for 2019-20, derailments were the main cause of railway accidents, accounting for 70%, a rise from the 68% the year before. Train fires and collisions followed, with 14% and 8% of reported accidents respectively. 

In the report, a total of forty derailments were noted, of which 33 were passenger trains and seven were freight trains. The cause of seventeen of these derailments was attributed to track "defects", such as fractures and subsidence. 

The report indicates that only nine derailments were attributed to flaws in the trains, such as engines, coaches, and wagons. 

During the summer months, metal railway tracks expand due to the rise in temperature and contract during the winter. Consequently, regular maintenance is a necessity to ensure that the components are firmly in place, the sleepers are changed, and the switches are appropriately lubricated and adjusted. This track inspection is carried out entirely on foot, with the assistance of trolleys, locomotives, and rear vehicles.

At least 3 times a year, India's railways suggest that track-recording cars very carefully assess the structural and geometric soundness of tracks built to maintain speeds from 110km/h to 130km/h.

Every quarter, the Indian railways strongly advise that there should be a thorough examination of track infrastructure and layout for tracks which accommodate speeds from 110km/h to 130km/h, conducted by track-recording cars.

CAG have released a report on train derailments between 2017 and 2021 which presents some disquieting discoveries.

¶ The document reported that there were "deficits between 30% and 100%" in inspections performed by track-recording cars, which are needed to evaluate the geometric and structural state of the tracks.

¶ An analysis of 1,129 derailment accident reports revealed that 24 distinct "factors" played a role in them. 

¶ Track maintenance was a key factor behind derailments (171 cases), and another was the "exceeding of allowable track parameters".

¶ Over 180 episodes of train derailing were attributed to mechanical issues. Out of these, more than one-third were caused by flaws in the carriages and wagons.

¶Derailments were often caused by negligence in driving and going over the speed limit.

The discussion around the installation of anti-collision devices on Indian trains has been widespread, however, according to a railway official, these systems are only being implemented on two significant routes at the moment - the one from Delhi to Kolkata and the other from Delhi to Mumbai. It is also uncertain how such a system would have been beneficial in the occurrence of a derailment or a "freak" crash.

In the year 2010, a fatal incident occurred in West Bengal, resulting in the loss of over 150 lives. Reports indicated that the derailment of the Kolkata-Mumbai passenger train, which subsequently collided with an oncoming freight train, was caused by the deliberate sabotage of Maoist rebels. However, no such suggestion has surfaced in the aftermath of the most recent accident that took place on Friday.

In 2021-22, the railways noted 34 "consequential rail accidents" - including derailments, collisions, fires/explosions, and road vehicles hitting trains at level crossings - which was an increase from 27 the previous year. The Hindu reported on May 31 that the number of these accidents has increased to 48 in 2022-2023. 

The report had foreseen the danger, and had warned that the railway authorities were concerned about the rise in accidents. They had urged their superior to "investigate thoroughly the long hours of the crew working in the East Coast Railway and the South East Central Railway, and to take urgent corrective measures". Sadly, the collision on Friday night took place in the active East Coast Railway zone.




By Girish Linganna
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Comment on this article

  • Janet Crasto, Dubai/Mumbai

    Sat, Jun 10 2023

    The news of the train disaster was shown only for two days by the media.. A lot of people had problems identifying the bodies of their loved ones. The local people helped them more. Bodies were kept in a school. Media didn't visit a single family in Orissa or other part, to show how the people are affected. A goods train was made to run on that tracks and we were told in news that normalcy has been restored. People who travelling in trains only know the amount of time and delays caused. It is the duty of the government to show the truth to its people. Wonder whether that will ever happen?


    Wed, Jun 07 2023

    My heart aches for the innocent lives lost in the tragic India rail accident. May their souls find peace, and may their loved ones find strength in this time of profound sorrow. This is an entirely preventable tragedy - For decades track maintenance and upgradation were neglected. Populism prevented tariff revisions made it difficult to find resources. As the elites now rarely travel by train, there was no political incentive. The government should have focused on track modernization instead of the vanity project of Ahd-Mum bullet train. Over 280 dead makes it one of the worst in history. Let us hope this tragedy will serve as a wakeup call.

  • Vinod Kumar, Mangalore

    Mon, Jun 05 2023

    Nobody else but only the govt is answerable to this question. Unfortunately when is last time this govt answered people’s questions in open press conference. So, how reliable will CBI investigation report be after we have seen many instances of biased CBI report dictated by the govt and CBI not even dirtying its hands out in the field to do the investigating work.

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