Indian Railways, the fourth largest railway network in the world, has for long been haunted by poor infrastructure which has led to many rail accidents over the years. The latest is the Kalinga Utkal Express derailment which led to the death of more than 20 people. Apart from this, around 92 people were injured when 14 coaches of the train derailed in Uttar Pradesh’s Muzaffarnagar district on the evening of August 19, 2017. The train was heading from Puri in Odihsa to Haridwar in Uttarakhand. The incident prompted the government to take action against the erring officials. Three officials have been sent on leave, four have been suspended and the chief track engineer of the Northern Railways transferred. Meanwhile, a compensation of Rs 3.5 lakh for the family of those who have been killed and Rs 50,000 for those seriously injured has also been announced by the railways.
However, the tragic incident, which has sent shock waves throughout the country, is not the first such incident. As per officials, the past five years have witnessed 586 rail accidents. Of these, around 53 percent accidents occurred due to derailments. Of the many rail accidents in recent years, the worst is the derailment of the Indore-Patna Express near Kanpur in Uttar Pradesh which occurred on 20 November 2016. The train derailed soon after pulling out of Pukhrayan station on the outskirts of Kanpur. The accident claimed the lives of 150 people while more than 150 were injured. It is claimed the accident took place due to a fracture in the railway line as well as overcrowding. Efforts are being made by the government to upgrade safety apparatuses and lessen the accident rate, still mishaps continue to occur.
Rail accidents in 2017
The year 2017 has till now witnessed eight rail accidents, including the Kalinga Utkal Express derailment. On 22 January 2017, Jagdalpur-Bhubaneswar Hirakhand Express derailed in Vizianagaram district in Andhra Pradesh. 40 people were killed while 65 others were injured.
On 17 March 2017, a train collided with an ambulance at an unmanned level crossing at Mannekote-Talaka road near Challakere in Karnataka’s Chitradurga district. Though four women were killed in the accident; however cause of the mishap was the driver’s insistence to drive through the crossing even after seeing the train approaching.
On January 15, 2017, eight coaches of the Meerut-Lucknow Rajya Rani Express ran off tracks near Rampur in Uttar Pradesh. Though 10 people were injured in the accident, fortunately no one was killed. The Ujjain train blast, which occurred on 3 March 2017, injured eight people after the Islamic State triggered a low intensity blast on the train.
The Mahakaushal Express derailment took place on 30 March 2017 near Kulpahar station in Uttar Pradesh’s Mahoba district. Around 52 people were injured in the accident. A goods train derailed in West Bengal on 9 April 2017. However, no casualties were reported. The Kalindi Express derailment took place on 20 February 2017. The train, which was coming from Kanpur rammed into a goods train. Fortunately, no one was injured.
Six bogies of Delhi-bound Kalindi Express which was coming from Kanpur, collided with the goods train after the driver apparently overshot the signal on Feb 20, 2017. No casualties were reported.
Why are so many rail accidents taking place?
Most of the rail accidents in India take place due to derailment which is due to excessive traffic and underinvestment in rail infrastructure. Railway lines develop cracks and after a few trains pass over, these cracks develop in fractures ultimately leading to derailment and causing massive losses of life as well as property. However, many of the accidents that are occurring could have been avoided had the railway staff been more alert. It is due to human error, that most of the accidents occur.
Failures on the part of railway staff are the main cause that lead to rail accidents and deaths. Many a times, railways staff have either adopted shortcuts or have not observed safety rules and guidelines thereby resulting in disastrous consequences. Meanwhile, other causes that lead to rail accidents are failure of equipment, sabotage, overcrowded compartments, outdated coaches and incidental factors.
The road ahead
Accidents can be prevented to a great extent if proper measures are put into place. Some of the measures that need to be taken into consideration are improving the rail infrastructure signals and tracks. Also the government should induct technology that would help to prevent or lessen rail accidents.