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Reason behind train accident in India?  A Look at the History

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The train crash in India on Friday night that killed 288 people and injured over 800 has many unresolved questions about its causes. The train accident in India took place between two express passenger trains and a freight train near a small station in the eastern state of Odisha.

According to reports, one of the trains collided with the stalled goods train, forcing its coaches to overturn into a third track and derail an approaching train. A preliminary report indicates that the accident was due to a failure in the signals.

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To uncover the truth behind the incident, a thorough investigation is necessary. However, this incident has once again raised concerns about railway safety in India.

India has an extensive railway system, one of the largest in the world, carrying around 25 million passengers daily on a network of tracks spanning over 100,000km (62,000 miles). According to Railway Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw, roughly 5,200 kilometers of new track were installed last year, while 8,000 km of track are improved each year. The minister also mentioned that the majority of tracks are being improved to accommodate speeds of up to 100 km/h, while a significant portion is being prepared for speeds of up to 130 km/h, and some tracks are being designed for speeds of up to 160 km/h.

The government’s plan to introduce faster trains throughout the country is evident, and a separate high-speed line is being constructed between Mumbai and Ahmedabad, the financial capital and another city.

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However, derailments remain a persistent concern for the railway system, as explained by former Railway Board chairman Vivek Sahai. Derailments can occur due to various factors, such as poorly maintained tracks, faulty coaches, or driver errors.

Derailments were the leading cause of railway accidents in 2019-20, accounting for 70% of all accidents, up from 68% the previous year, according to a government railway safety study. The next significant causes were train fires, responsible for 14% of accidents, and collisions, responsible for 8%.

Train accident in India?  A Look at the History

train accident in India

Only nine derailments were caused by defects in the trains themselves, such as engines, coaches, or wagons, as stated in the report.

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Metal railway tracks expand in the summer and compress in the winter owing to temperature variations. Tightening loose track components, replacing sleepers, and lubricating and adjusting switches are all part of routine maintenance. Track inspections are carried out on foot, as well as by trolleys, locomotives, and rear vehicles.

During that year, there were 40 derailments involving 33 passenger trains and seven freight trains. Among these incidents, 17 derailments were attributed to track “defects,” which could include track fractures and subsidence.

Indian railways recommend that track-recording cars thoroughly assess the structural and geometrical condition of tracks designed for speeds ranging from 110km/h to 130km/h at least once every three months.

A report on derailments by federal auditors from April 2017 to March 2021 revealed some concerning findings:

  • Inspections conducted by track-recording cars to assess track conditions had shortfalls ranging from 30% to 100%, as per the report.
  • An analysis of 1,129 investigation reports of derailment accidents identified around two dozen factors contributing to these incidents.
  • Track maintenance issues (171 cases) were a major cause of derailments, followed by deviations in track parameters beyond permissible limits.
  • Mechanical reasons accounted for over 180 derailments, with more than a third of them attributed to defects in coaches and wagons.
  • “Bad driving and over-speeding” were also significant factors leading to derailments.
train accident in India

Although there have been discussions about installing anti-collision devices on Indian trains(KAVACH), these systems are currently being implemented only on two major routes: Delhi-Kolkata and Delhi-Mumbai, according to a railway official.

It remains unclear how such a system would have helped in the case of a derailment or an unexpected collision.

Back in 2010, a tragic incident occurred in West Bengal where over 150 people lost their lives. A passenger train derailed and collided with a freight train coming from the opposite direction.

Maoist insurgents purposefully destroyed the track, leading the Kolkata-Mumbai passenger train to derail and five of its carriages to crash with oncoming cargo trains, according to investigators. However, there is no indication of sabotage in the recent accident on Friday.

According to the railway authorities, there were 34 significant train accidents in India in the year 2021-22, including collisions, derailments, train fires, and incidents where road vehicles collided with trains at level crossings.

This number increased from 27 accidents in the previous year. As reported by The Hindu newspaper on May 31, 2022-2023 witnessed a further rise in train accidents in India, reaching a total of 48.

Interestingly, the report mentioned that railway authorities had expressed concerns about the growing number of accidents. They instructed their senior managers to thoroughly examine the long working hours of the train crew,

particularly in the East Coast Railway and South East Central Railway zones, and take immediate corrective measures. It is worth noting that the accident on Friday evening occurred in the busy East Coast Railway zone.

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