Railway Safety

Context:  The recent rail accident in Balasore in Odisha, has exposed the failings in the functioning of Indian Railways and the challenges that India faces in modernising and expanding its rail services.
Probable Question:  Q. Indian Railways needs an infrastructure revamp focused on improving safety, speed, and punctuality so that Indian railways can reclaim its role as the lifeline of India. Discuss 
Rail safety comparison with other countries:
  • Uncommon accidents: Accidents involving passenger trains are extremely uncommon in countries with developed railway systems like Japan, China, Turkey, and several European nations like France, Spain, Germany, Italy, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.
  • Higher maximum and average speed: In these railways, most passenger trains travel at a maximum speed of 200–350 kmph, clocking an average speed of 150–250 kmph, which is three to five times faster than the speed in India, which is roughly 50 kmph.
  • Comparison with China:
    • Rail network: The total length of China’s rail network in 1950 (21,800 km) was less than half that of India (53,596 km). Currently, China’s total route length (1,55,000 km) exceeds India’s (68,100 km) by more than two-fold.
    • No dual track lines: Unlike China, India did not build new dual track lines along the major trunk routes, notably the quadrilateral, and its diagonals that connect Delhi, Chennai, Mumbai, and Kolkata.
    • The severe congestion on Indian Railways’ main trunk routes is the primary factor contributing to the trains’ stagnant speeds and their subpar safety record
Challenges faced by Indian Railways:
  • Human resource deployment problem
    • Semi-skilled workers: At the ground level, Indian Railways saddled with semi-skilled workers promoted from linemen to handle mechanical or sophisticated electronic systems.
      • These ground level staff simply cannot stand up to pressure from the traffic or civil engineering wings.
  • Outsourcing certain works including maintenance of new telecom signal equipment: These firms deploy badly trained and lowly paid technical personnel with no motivation to work in such places.
  • Remote work locations:  Among railway engineers, nobody is willing to work in remote places with bare amenities and boxed into small quarters.
  • The issue is also of interdepartmental rivalry despite unified managed structure.
  • Vacancy: 
      • Data available shows 3.12 lakh non-gazetted posts were vacant.
      • These vacant positions include those responsible for safety, maintenance and engineering.
      • In the Central Railway alone, 14,203 vacancies out of the 28,650 posts were in the safety category.
  • Performance audit on derailment in Indian Railways by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India:
    • It had noted that around 75 per cent of the 217 consequential train accidents between 2017-18 and 2020-21 were due to derailments. And one of the major factors responsible for derailments was related to maintenance of tracks.
    • There were shortfalls ranging from 30% to 100% in inspections by track-recording cars required to assess the geometrical and structural conditions of the tracks
    • The report also pointed to failures in the Track Management System, which is a web-based application for online monitoring of track maintenance activities.
  • Safety issues
    • Derailments formed close to 70% of all accidents since 1990­-91, followed by level crossing accidents, collisions and fires in trains.
    • Among the consequential train accidents, 55% had occurred due to negligence or failure of the Railways staff.
    • The major causes of derailments are rail fractures, weld failures, track defects and rolling stock defects.
  • Funding and Expenditure
    • In the 2023-­24 Union Budget, the Railways received a record allocation of ₹2.40 lakh crore. However, when capital expenditure on crucial activities related to safety such as track renewal and signalling and telecom are considered, their shares dwindled.
    • Parliamentary Standing Committee report in 2023 observed that “appropriations to the Rashtriya Rail Sanraksha Kosh” has been falling short ever since it was introduced.
    • The Committee also noted that the Railways did not meet the target of earmarked allocations for the previous five years.
Way Forward  Recommendations of High Level Safety Review Committee (Anil Kakodkar Committee)
  • Stopping the practice of introduction of new trains without commensurate inputs to the infrastructure.
  • A switch over from the ICF (Integral Coach Factory) design coaches to the much safer Linke Hofmann Busch (LHB) design coaches.
  • There is a need for an independent mechanism for safety regulation. The Committee recommends the creation of a statutory Railway Safety Authority with enough powers to have a safety oversight on the operational mode of Railways.
  • Restructuring of Research Design and Standards Organization (RDSO) for greater empowerment.
  • Railway Research and Development Council (RRDC) should be set up directly under the government.
  • Adoption of an Advanced Signalling System (akin to the European Train Control System) for the entire trunk route length.
CAG recommendations Railways should ensure: 
  • Strict adherence to the scheduled timelines for conducting and finalisation of accident inquiries
  • Develop a strong monitoring mechanism to ensure timely implementation of maintenance activities by adopting fully mechanised methods of track maintenance and improved technologies.
Source: Indian Express, The Hindu

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