Context: The Balasore accident was an exception in recent years, but it also reflects the declining focus on safety measures by the Indian Railways.
What happened in Balasore
- At least 288 people have been killed and over 1000 were injured in a horrific three-train collision. The crash involved the Bengaluru-Howrah Superfast Express, the Shalimar-Chennai Central Coromandel Express, and a goods train.
- The accident saw one train ram so hard into the other that carriages were lifted high into the air, twisting and then smashing off the tracks. Another carriage had been tossed entirely onto its roof, crushing the passenger section.
Why the train accident happened
- Railway officials indicated that possible “sabotage” and tampering with the electronic interlocking system, which detects the presence of trains.
Trends in rail accidents
Chart 1 shows that year-wise number of accidents have decreased sharply between 1990 to 2021. The main contributor in this regard was in the case of derailment. Similarly there was decline in the collisions and level crossing. However, number of fires in the trains (despite being the least in numbers) has remained consistent.
Chart 2 shows the number of killed passenger over last three decades. Numbers have been very fluctuating all these years. But it has reached the minimum in last two years (except current Balasore accident).
Chart 3 clearly proves that majority of the accidents have been due to failure on part of railway staff followed by non-railway persons. Equipment failure, sabotage and other incidents have remained the least.
Chart 4 shows the budgetary allocation over modernisation and ensuring safer railway travel. There was a sudden jump in the allocation in the 2020-21, however it came down in later years. It is visible that higher priority has been given the renewal of track rather than the signalling and telecommunication system. Signalling is as important as the safety of the tracks as many collision have taken place due to misleading signalling.
Chart 5 shows the performaces of the government with regards to the achievements on the track renewal. Through this chart we can easily deduce that achievements have been repeated in majority of the cases. In last three financial years, success of the railway in the achievement on track renewal outnumbered the targets.
Initiative taken towards safe railway travel
1. Rashtriya Rail Sanraksha Kosh (RRSK) was created in the year 2017-18 with a corpus of Rs 1 lakh crore for a period of 5 years (i.e. 2017-2022) for critical safety related works. It is for Safety related works like track renewal, bridge rehabilitation, vehicular ultrasound testing for rail/welds, weld quality improvements, elimination of level crossings with ROB/RUB, electronic interlocking system, block proving through axle counter, interlocking of LC gates etc.
2. Elimination of unmanned level crossing: decision was taken to eliminate all unmanned level crossings either by way of closure, merger etc. or by manning these level crossings along with provision of lifting barrier. All Unmanned level crossings have been eliminated on Broad Gauge.
3. Provision of LBH coaches: to switch over completely to LHB (Linke Hofmann Busch) type coaches into the IR system which are of a superior design that have superior body-bogie and wheel bogie connections, anti-climbing features, tight lock coupling, provision of bump stop, superior braking, provision of yaw dampers to ensure smooth transfer of forces between body and bogie, etc.
4. Track renewal and modernisation of track: track renewal has been doubled from 2,424 Kms in 2014-15 to 4,500 Kms in 2019-20.
5. Automatic train protection (ATP) systems: Indian Railway has developed its own Indigenous Automatic Train Protection (ATP) Systems for enhancing safety of running trains. The System is known as Train Collision Avoidance System (TCAS). TCAS will not only aid Loco Pilot to avoid Signal Passing At Danger (SPAD) and over speeding but also help in train running during inclement weather such as dense fog. TCAS is adopted as our National Automatic Train Protection (ATP) System.