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India train crash: Death Toll Raised To 309 After Odisha incident

India train crash: More than 230 dead after Odisha incident

16 minutes ago

Footage showed rescuers trying to free victims from the wreckage

At least 233 people are now known to have been killed and 900 injured in a multiple train collision in India's eastern Odisha state, officials say.

More than 200 ambulances were sent to the scene in Balasore district, says Odisha's chief secretary Pradeep Jena.
One passenger train is thought to have derailed before being struck by another on the adjacent track late on Friday.
It is India's worst train crash this century. Officials say the death toll is expected to rise further.

Indian Railways said the two services involved were the Coromandel Express and the Howrah Superfast Express.
Sudhanshu Sarangi, the director general of the fire department in Odisha, said that 207 bodies had been recovered so far.
Mr Jena said earlier that more than 100 additional doctors had been mobilised.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said he was distressed by the incident and his thoughts were with the bereaved families.
"Rescue ops are under way at the site of the mishap and all possible assistance is being given to those affected," he tweeted.
Meanwhile, Home Minister Amit Shah labelled the incident "deeply agonising".

One male survivor said that "10 to 15 people fell on me when the accident happened and everything went haywire. I was at the bottom of the pile.

"I got hurt in my hand and also the back of my neck. When I came out of the train bogie, I saw someone had lost their hand, someone had lost their leg, while someone's face was distorted," the survivor told India's ANI news agency.
It is believed that several carriages from the Shalimar-Chennai Coromandel Express derailed at about 19:00 local time (13:30 GMT), with some of them ending up on the opposite track.

Another train - the Howrah Superfast Express travelling from Yesvantpur to Howrah - is then thought to have hit the overturned carriages.

Indian officials said that a goods train - which was stationary at the site - was also involved in the incident. They provided no further details.

Some surviving passengers were seen rushing in to help rescue those trapped in the wreckage. Local bus companies were also helping to transport wounded passengers.

India has one of the largest train networks in the world and accidents are common, despite successive governments investing hundreds of millions of dollars to improve the infrastructure, says BBC South Asia regional editor Anbarasan Ethirajan.

India's worst train disaster was in 1981, when an overcrowded passenger train was blown off the tracks and into a river during a cyclone in Bihar state, killing at least 800 people.


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Rip very sad.
My condolences for the bereaved families.

Allah Rahem keray.. Why is it that in 3rd world countries, fatalities are high a similar mishaps in advanced countries you do not hear that many deaths? Be it Train accidents or natural disasters such as earthquakes, floods etc...
Well both India and Pakistan are still using old British era railways.
Do your 17% who would feel relieved include them?

You still didn't ask for Resignation of Nitish Kumar for what happened in Bihar.
Don't you read my replies?

He simply presides over bribes being taken.

He does not preside over a regime soaked in blood from head to foot in the blood of its citizens.

Horrific crash that killed 275 people exposes structural issues in Indian Railways​

As investigations continue into the railway accident in Balasore in the Indian State of Odisha, the failure to address staffing and safety has been widely condemned. Over 300,000 posts remain vacant in the Indian Railways.​

India Railways train crash. A long file of rescue workers in orange construction vests is seen on the tracks next two overturned railway cars.


This story originally appeared in Peoples Dispatch on June 5, 2023. It is shared here under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 (CC BY-SA) license.
At least 275 people have died following a horrific train accident in the Balasore district of the Indian State of Odisha on Friday, June 2. Over a 1,000 people were also injured in what is being called the worst rail accident in 20 years. As the country recovers from the shock, questions are being asked about the government’s policies towards the railways.

The accident involved three trains. On the evening of June 2, the Coromandel Express, a passenger train, rammed a stationary goods train that had been parked in the Loop Line of the Bahanaga Bazar railway station. According to a preliminary investigation, 21 coaches of the Coromandel Express derailed and some overturned, including on to the adjoining track.

Just minutes later, another passenger train, the Yesvantpur-Howrah Superfast Express coming from Bengaluru hit the derailed compartments of the Coromandel Express, and itself derailed, becoming what is called “a wreck on a wreck.” Both trains had an estimated 2,000 passengers on board.

Issues with the signaling system

On June 4, Railway Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw stated the root cause of the collision had happened due to a change in the electronic interlocking, which is a signaling system to ensure route safety for trains. He added that the people responsible had been identified.

Subsequently, he added that the Railway Board had recommended an investigation by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), identifying a “signaling interference” as the main cause of the accident.

The preliminary investigation found that the Coromandel Express had initially been given the “green signal” to pass through the Up Main Line (heading towards Chennai). However this signal was then taken off, following which the train moved into the Loop Line (which are lines constructed around station areas to accommodate trains ease operations). It then collided with the goods train.

Coromandel was not scheduled to stop at the Bahanaga station and it is not known why the green signal was taken off. It is also not clear whether the signal was displaying “red” or “green” when the Coromandel Express crossed it.

Balasore and neighboring areas were the site of a massive rescue effort as local residents joined National Disaster Response Force and fire department personnel. Meanwhile, distressing videos circulated on social media revealed a close-up of the tragedy.

Heartbreaking scenes have emerged out of Odisha of relatives searching for their loved ones amid the chaos, as piles of bodies were laden on trucks and in open halls. According to news reports, the local Bahanaga high school was turned into a makeshift morgue, while local hospitals struggled to accommodate patients.

The State and Central governments have since then announced ex-gratia payments. Alongside the looming CBI probe, the Odisha Police have also filed charges of “causing death by negligence and endangering life,” however the case does not name any specific individuals as of now.

The Indian Railways is one of the country’s most important institutions, employing over 1.1 million people. It is the fourth biggest railway network in the world and the second largest in size if we consider passenger miles. While the Balasore train accident is the worst India has seen for many years in terms of its sheer scale, the Indian Railways have continued to witness routine accidents, both “consequential” (entailing serious repercussions including loss of human life) and otherwise.

This brings to the fore the structural issues that have continued to plague the railway system and which have become a key issue in this context. In a letterfrom February, seen by news publication ThePrint, the principal chief operating manager of the South Western Railway zone had warned of “serious flaws” in the signaling system, adding that if the maintenance system was not corrected, it could lead to “re-occurrence and serious accidents”.

“Anything of this nature happening in one zone raises eyebrows everywhere,” an anonymous senior railway official stated in the news report.

Incomplete safety inquiries

The Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) published a report in 2022 for the year ending March 2021. A section of the report stated, “Investigation of factors responsible for derailments conducted by the Inquiry Committees is an important exercise, which highlights the main factors responsible for the accidents.”

According to the report, the Zonal Railways (ZR) did not adhere to the timeline prescribed by the Railway Board for completing inquiries in 49% of the derailment cases. It also revealed that the Indian Railways neglected workforce vacancies and managed them through nominal outsourcing. This lack of proper staffing in the safety category compromised the railways’ vision of achieving accident-free, collision-free, and fire-free train operations.

The report revealed that track inspections were conducted in only 181 cases out of the required total of 350, indicating that over 50% of the mandatory track safety inspections were neglected. Furthermore, the data shows that out of the total 217 accidents between the years 2017 and 2021, 75% were caused by derailments. Additionally, there were 211 accidents attributed to signal failure. The report also acknowledged that essential safety measures were being disregarded, while funds were being allocated to non-priority projects instead of investing in rail safety.

Staff shortage

Just two days before the accident, The Hindu published a report highlighting how the shortage of staff in Indian Railways was leading to major accidents. For instance, in the South East Central Railway, 35.99% of loco pilots had duty shifts exceeding 12 hours in March, 34.53% in April, and 33.26% during the first half of May.

For the year 2023, over 312,000 posts in the Indian Railways remained vacant. The failure to fill these positions has resulted in employees working overtime. A 29-year-old employee, working at the Central Railway ticket booking office in Mumbai, told The Hindu, “I have been working double shifts for up to 16 hours continuously as we don’t have enough staff to relieve us.“

Political parties in India condemned the failure to address many of these underlying structural issues. Communist Party of India (Marxist) General Secretary noted that a task force formed in 2017 had pointed out the urgent need for track renewals. However, in the 2022 budget, the allocation for track renewal was cut by 14%. He also called out the government for the vacancies of the position of gangmen, who monitor tracks for any loose bolts.

He warned against the CBI probe being used to divert attention from some of these issues.

Many observers also criticized the government’s focus on publicity campaigns boasting of super-fast trains while basic safety issues remained unresolved. Sitaram Yechury urged the government to focus on providing facilities for people to travel rather than on high-speed trains which only the rich can access.

Opposition leader Jairam Ramesh tweeted that “rail safety & track renewals have taken a backseat, while high-profile inaugurations & an obsession with speed get priority.”

His party, the Indian National Congress, and other political leaders demanded the resignation of Rail Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw.

(With inputs from Umer Beigh, Hrishi Raj Anand and Tanupriya Singh)

4 days on, officials struggle to preserve bodies of Odisha train tragedy victims​

Of the 288 bodies recovered from accident site, 205 have been identified and sent back to their families​

At the Balasore district hospital, next to a helpdesk strewn with macabre photographs of the dead, Krupa Devi sits slumped against a wall. On Friday evening, from her home in Bihar’s Munger, she watched the news in horror, as television channels streamed visuals from the site of India’s worst rail accident in three decades featuring the Coromandel Express, a train her father Manoj Chaudhuri had boarded that morning from Howrah.
Workers restore railway tracks at the site of collision in Odisha’s Balasore district on Tuesday. (PTI)
Workers restore railway tracks at the site of collision in Odisha’s Balasore district on Tuesday. (PTI)
Read here: 8 days before Odisha accident, Railway Board briefed House panel on its safety-first approach

By Saturday, the 23-year-old was in Balasore, hunting for him. For the first two days, she had hoped he would be among the injured, but it was not to be. Since then, she has poured through photograph after photograph, body after body, travelled from the Balasore district hospital to the SCB Medical College in Cuttack to the AIIMS in Bhubaneswar. And in what is symptomatic of a growing challenge for the Odisha government and the railways; to combat which they have called in specialised containers, embalming experts and are beginning DNA sampling; Krupa Devi has yet to find her father.

On Friday evening, the Coromandel Express that travels from Shalimar in West Bengal to Chennai in Tamil Nadu on one of India’s trunk railway routes, crashed into a goods train, some of its derailed compartments then colliding into the Yeshwantpur Howrah Express at the Bahanaga Bazar railway station, leaving 288 dead and over 1100 injured. Of the 288, 205 have been identified and sent back to their families. For the other 83, like Devi, the wait exacerbates the pain of loss. “So many of the bodies are disfigured. The eyes are protruding, the faces are bloated, they all look the same. Someone get me my father,” a disconsolate Devi said.

On Sunday, aware that they were racing against time and decomposition, close to 100 bodies were sent to AIIMS Bhubaneswar for embalming, a process where formalin is injected into the arteries, normally intended to delay decomposition so the remains are suitable for a funeral, or to preserve the body in case the last rites have to be conducted a few days after death. Before the surgical embalming can begin, the body is washed in a disinfectant solution and the limbs are massaged and manipulated to relieve rigor mortis (stiffening of the joints and muscles).

On Monday, a team of doctors from Delhi from AIIMS, Lady Hardinge Medical College and Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital arrived in Odisha to provide their expertise. Additionally, AIIMS has called for at least five container size freezers from the Paradip Port, that have the capacity to hold 200 bodies. But doctors remain sceptical of this strategy so far.

Read here: Days after Odisha train crash, Coromandel Express passes through accident site

“Ideally, embalming should be done within 6-12 hours of death. If embalming is not done for more than 12 hours after death, its loses effectiveness and decomposition happens quickly. The accident happened during the summer so that has exacerbated the process. Also if the body is damaged, embalming is difficult. If the body is damaged, it is very difficult to embalm it,” said Dr Prabhas Ranjan Tripathy, professor of anatomy at AIIMS Bhubaneswar.

With decomposition inevitable, the AIIMS authorities on Monday also started DNA testing, collecting blood samples from family members to match with DNA samples retrieved from the bodies, to avoid discrepancies. This is now key, officials said, because there have been instances where bodies identified by one family from a photograph, have been found to have been taken away by someone else.

A claimant from Jharkhand on Tuesday told PTI that they had identified the body of Upendra Kumar Sharma one day before, but it was handed over to someone else. “What is the point of doing DNA sampling? We identified Upendra from the tattoo mark on his body,” the relative said.

Read here: Odisha train accident survivor's nerve-chilling account: ‘Severed head…’

As many as 10 samples have so far been collected from the claimants, a senior official of AIIMS, Bhubaneswar said.

State government officials said that the arrival of these special containers from Paradip means they have bought some time, and they will wait for a couple of days to take a final call if bodies have no claimants at all. “As per IPC, we can cremate the bodies after 96 hours if there are no claimants. A mass cremation is a last resort,” a senior official said.

Odisha train accident: More than 80 bodies unidentified after India train crash​

12 hours ago
drone view
By Geeta Pandey and Subrat Kumar Pati
BBC News, Delhi and Bhubaneswar
Five days after a deadly three-train crash killed 288 people in India, more than 80 bodies remain unclaimed.
The crash on Friday evening in the state of Odisha involved two passenger trains and a stationary goods train.
More than 1,000 injured were taken to hospitals for treatment. Many families say they are still looking for loved ones.
The deadly collision is India's worst rail accident this century.
On Tuesday, Odisha's chief secretary Pradeep Jen said the official death toll rose to 288 from the previous figure of 275 while 83 bodies remained unidentified.
The crash saw a passenger train derail after wrongly entering into a loop track by the side of the main line and colliding with a stationary goods train that was parked there. Its derailed carriages then struck the rear coaches of a second passenger train going in the opposite direction.
More than 3,000 passengers are thought to have been travelling on the two trains, with reports saying both were packed.
Desperate family members of passengers from Odisha and other states have been crowding hospitals, seeking information about their loved ones. But in some cases, identifying the body is proving to be a real challenge.
At the Balasore District Hospital in Odisha, Muhammad Nizamuddin couldn't claim his grandsons' bodies.
Tafsir Ansari, 16 and his brother, Tausif, 13, were traveling by the Coromandel Express with their father when it met with an accident.
While the father is still missing, the photographs of the teenagers, along with those of several other victims, were projected onto a wall in the hospital - Tafsir tagged number 20 and Tausif 169 - for their family members to identify them.
The faces of the boys were disfigured due to injuries, but their grandfather says he recognised them.
So he decided to make his way to the state capital, Bhubaneshwar - where nearly 100 unclaimed bodies have been kept in four hospitals - but an official there stopped him.
The official informed him that Tafsir's body had already been claimed by another family but is yet to be handed over to them.
"How is this possible? Do you mean that I won't recognise my grandchildren," a distraught Mr Nizamuddin told the BBC.
He has now been asked to get in touch with civic officials in Bhubaneshwar who have been tasked with checking claims, identification documents, and taking measures to see that the body goes to the right family.
Relatives looking for their loved ones at AIIMS hospital after the train crash
Subrat Kumar Pati
Relatives are looking for their loved ones at hospitals after the train crash
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"If you go through the photo database, you'll see many of the bodies are damaged beyond recognition. They are also now decomposing," Bhubaneshwar Municipal Corporation Commissioner Vijay Amruta Kulange told the BBC.
In cases where there were more than one family have claimed a body, DNA testing was being done to help families with identification, he said, adding that "unidentified bodies would be kept at the hospital morgue for the next 10 days", and that "the government would not hurry to cremate or bury" them.
A BBC graphic shows how the crash in Odisha may have happened. The Coromandel Express first hit a goods train, although it is not clear how the two ended up on the same track. This caused the Express's carriages to derail - which were then hit by the oncoming Howrah Superfast Express, causing some of that train's own carriages to derail as well

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At the weekend, Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the crash scene and vowed that anyone found guilty would be "punished stringently".
Rescue work was completed on Saturday and the tracks had been cleared of wreckage. Train traffic has already been restored on one of the lines and officials said the remaining lines would also be restored and reopened by Wednesday.
India has one of the largest train networks in the world. It runs more than 12,000 passenger trains daily, which are used by several billion passengers to travel across the country annually - but a lot of the railway infrastructure needs improving.
Trains are generally packed at this time of year, with a growing number of people travelling during school holidays.
The country's worst train disaster was in 1981, when an overcrowded passenger train was blown off the tracks and into a river during a cyclone in Bihar state, killing about 800 people.
Additional reporting by Amitabh Bhattasali.
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Don't you read my replies?

He simply presides over bribes being taken.

He does not preside over a regime soaked in blood from head to foot in the blood of its citizens.
I asked another question.

India Needs to Focus on Tracks Before Trains

We are still not sure exactly why India’s storied Coromandel Express plowed into a stationary freight train late on Friday night last week, setting off a three-train pileup that cost almost 300 people their lives. But it seems likely that something as mundane as a signaling fault could have been to blame, sending the express down the wrong tracks toward the parked goods carriages loaded down with iron ore.

The tragedy shocked Indians not just because so many died, but because we have grown accustomed to the idea that railroad travel in this country has gotten much safer. A few years ago, we celebrated when nobody was killed in accidents for two successive years. The government has widely publicized its investments into Indian Railways; swanky new trains have been regularly flagged off, and the prime minister has himself been awkwardly photographed on one of the new “Vande Bharat” expresses. Some have argued that the focus on new trains has meant safety has been ignored.

That may not be entirely true. Over the past decades, a lot of work has been put into upgrading signaling, shutting down level crossings, and other ways to make Indian railroads safer.

But it is also an understandable impression. Since the hard work of upgrading safety (and improving customer experience, or increasing on-time arrivals) isn’t very glamorous, the government does focus more on showing off its new trains and other snazzy innovations.

This is one of the greatest pitfalls when it comes to infrastructure policy. Repair, restoration and maintenance just doesn’t give voters the endorphin rush a shiny new train does. And politicians — particularly populist politicians — really want to give their voters something new to cheer about every few weeks.

That’s why populists love big projects. Boris Johnson planned to spend £5 billion on an infrastructure plan he described as “build, build, build.” He also famously wanted to spend hundreds of billions on a bridge to Northern Ireland. Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan has gone through dozens of strange ideas, from a new amusement park in Ankara to a canal that would bypass the Bosporus.

Modi himself has promised a new “bullet train” between Mumbai and Ahmedabad, the capital of his home state of Gujarat. The government also has grandiose (and dangerous) plans, due to cost $168 billion, to link all of India’s rivers together.

It’s far better to think small than to think big. Working on the plumbing is less glitzy than building a fancy facade, but it can be far more rewarding in the long run. Really successful projects are the ones that change the lives of a significant fraction of the electorate.

Modi, of all politicians, should know this. His government’s efforts to get more households using gas cylinders to cook, or to put them on the electricity grid, have been vote-winners. Certainly, his toilet-building program — literal plumbing — will help a thousand times more Indians than will ever ride the bullet train.

It is particularly important to guard against the big-project temptation when you have a large reservoir of money to spend. In India, spending on the railways has increased manifold over the past years. This year’s federal budget set aside Rs. 10 trillion ($120 billion) for capital investment, about half for transport infrastructure. And about half of that, in turn — $29 billion — is due to go to Indian Railways. But only a small fraction of the money was earmarked for a special safety fund — which, in any case, was failing because the railways weren’t living up to their promise to match federal funds.

As multiple Western countries ramp up their spending on infrastructure — the US set aside $1.2 trillion in 2021 — they should keep the big-project trap in mind.

Grandiose projects might not work out. Johnson had to ignominiously scale back his plans for high-speed rail links to Britain’s north, and Erdogan’s dinosaur park turned into a desolate wasteland full of abandoned toys. Modi’s bullet train was supposed to be built in time for general elections next year. We will be lucky if it is completed before the next elections after that, in 2029.

Worse, populist projects monopolize funds and state capacity that should be focused on getting the basics — say, replacing railway tracks — right. India’s newest “super-fast” trains are supposed to run at 180 kilometers an hour, but because the rail lines they use haven’t been upgraded, they still chug along at the same 80-90 kilometers per hour as the ones they were supposed to replace.

Most importantly, India’s commuters and migrants need safe and comfortable railway journeys much more than they need the thrill of knowing that somewhere out there some other Indian is taking a much faster train. Big projects don’t usually work out, they soak up attention and funds — and they usually aren’t what people really need. Populists should pay more attention to plumbing, not photo-ops.

Why does India have so many train crashes?

The deadly Odisha crash is the latest in a string of rail accidents in the country​

India was stricken by a three-way train crash in the state of Odisha that killed nearly 300 people and injured more than 1,000. The accident, which investigators blamed on a faulty train signal, was one of the deadliest rail disasters in the country's history. Rescue workers and first responders described scenes of chaos as they searched through derailed train cars filled with dead bodies.
While Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has pledged to hold those responsible for the crash accountable, the Odisha accident is the latest in a neverending series of train accidents in India. In 2021, more than 16,000 people were killed in nearly 18,000 rail accidents across India, CNN reported. The deadliest accident is believed to have occurred in 1981, when a train plunged off a bridge in Bihar state, killing an estimated 800 people.

So why does India have so many rail accidents? The country has grappled with staggering death tolls from trains, and "despite government efforts to improve rail safety, several hundred accidents happen annually on India's railways," The Associated Press reported. Unless safety improvements are implemented nationwide, accidents are likely to continue, given that "trains remain an essential lifeline in India … carrying approximately 13 million passengers a day for work, family and leisure on trains that weave across 40,000 miles of track," The Guardian reported.

What are commentators saying?​

Many train disasters in India are caused by derailments, with a government safety report from 2020 finding they were responsible for 70% of train crashes in the country. Part of the problem is India's sweltering heat, as "railway tracks undergo expansion during the summer months and contraction in winter due to the fluctuations in temperature," Soutik Biswas reported for BBC News. As a result, Indian railway tracks require constant inspection. This includes evaluations of "the structural and geometrical integrity of tracks … at least once every three months," he added.

Due to the large scope of the railway system in India, though, there are often shortfalls in these inspections, according to Biswas. A federal audit from 2017 found deficiencies "ranging from 30% to 100% in inspections." There have been talks of installing anti-collision devices on Indian trains, Biswas noted, but "the system is now only being installed on two major routes — between Delhi and Kolkata and between Delhi and Mumbai."

The nation's train system is also very old, built during British colonial rule in the 1870s. "The system is often criticized for being inefficient, overburdened and unsafe" as a result of its age, Juliet Perry and Medhavi Arora wrote for CNN in 2016, following another deadly crash. While there have been some safety enhancements since the 19th century, "the present system has outlived its utility" and needs a "generational change," former Indian rail minister Dinesh Trivedi told CNN.

This antiquated system is often cited as the main reason for India's high crash rate. "Pure operational failures are not uncommon on Indian railways," former railway official Subodh Jain told AFP, per The Japan Times. "Safety mechanisms are now far more robust, but it's a work in progress."

The rails have additionally been hindered by a longstanding lack of funding. The Indian trains system has "suffered from considerable underinvestment during the last years," and "investments in safety have also been insufficient," another former Indian rail minister, Suresh Prabhu, wrote.

What's next?​

India has invested significantly in new (and safer) train cars, Alex Travelli reported for The New York Times. Travelli noted that, under Modi, India "has been polishing its long-ramshackle infrastructure as never before, and its railways … have been a prime beneficiary." India's rail budget "is five times as much this year than when [Modi] took office."

However, when it comes to India's already existing rail network, "its purse strings have been much tighter when it comes to ensuring the safety of those already racing along its tracks," Travelli added. There are still significant safety hurdles to overcome. The Indian government has implemented a reform system, including "accounting reforms … an independent regulator … [and] an asset monetization plan," Bibek Debroy reported for The Economic Times. But "given the legacy of decades of lack of reforms, the big-picture reform template cannot be delivered overnight and has to be incremental," Debroy added, and will likely take many more years to implement.

Edge of a Precipice

A point, missed by most, is the antiquated and dilapidated infrastructure of the railways. Replying to a question in the Rajya Sabha on 13 December 2019, the Railway Minister informed that there were 38,850 railway bridges, which were more than 100 years old. Much of the railway track is more than fifty years old, with more than 100 per cent utilisation on trunk routes. Train bogies of even prestigious trains, like Rajdhani, are more than twenty years old

Indian Railways, USFD, accidents fall, Railways accidents

Representational Image (File Photo)
A point, missed by most, is the antiquated and dilapidated infrastructure of the railways. Replying to a question in the Rajya Sabha on 13 December 2019, the Railway Minister informed that there were 38,850 railway bridges, which were more than 100 years old. Much of the railway track is more than fifty years old, with more than 100 per cent utilisation on trunk routes. Train bogies of even prestigious trains, like Rajdhani, are more than twenty years old

It is truly said that railways are the lifeline of India. After democratisation of air travel, trains have receded from public consciousness, though most Indians still travel by train ~ around 13,169 trains carry, in aggregate, more than 2.20 crore passengers every day. Great metropolises like Kolkata and Mumbai come to a halt if suburban trains are disrupted. Running around 8,500 freight trains, the railways transport more than 1400 million tonnes of freight, every year. Indian Railways have a long history; established by the British to manage their Indian Empire, the Railways soon became a uniquely Indian enterprise.

At the time of Independence, different sections of the rail network were run profitably by different private companies; for example, the GIP Railway preceded the Central Railway, and Bombay Baroda and Central India Railway was the precursor of Western Railway. Post-Independence, from a profitable commercial enterprise, Indian Railways changed into a Government department, mutating, in no time, to a meal train for politicians.

Armies of youth were given jobs in the railways on political considerations, trains were started from the Rail Minister’s constituency, ticketless travel was ignored, hardly any investment was made for proper maintenance of tracks and rolling stock or for improvement of railway infrastructure. Hardly any new routes were commissioned. The result was a creaky and outdated railway system, with a poor record of safety and punctuality.

A comparison with China is instructive. In 1949, China had only about one-third of our track length, but today China’s track length is double of ours. China has 25,000 km of High-Speed tracks where trains run at 350 km per hour. China is now running freight trains up to Madrid, while we don’t run trains even up to Nepal. Poor upkeep of the Rail Museum at Delhi reflects the callous attitude and lack of vision of the Indian Railways. Iconic train engines, which are an invaluable national heritage, are stabled in the open at the mercy of the elements. Marketed better, the Rail Museum could be a big draw for train enthusiasts. With the elite not travelling by trains any longer, railways have lost much of their glamour. The Railway Budget has now been subsumed in the General Budget and railways are hardly in the news, except for some momentous event like the launch of a new train or some railway accident. It would appear, that railways have been relegated to a minor department of the Government ~ which is ill-advised, given the complexity and vastness of the operations of Indian Railways.

Bureaucratic control over railway means continuing with policies like prioritising passenger traffic, particularly of premium classes ~ which is a losing proposition ~ over goods traffic. Presently, on most days, Rajdhani AC 2 Tier or AC First Class fares between metro cities are higher than airfares, making trains the last option for premium passengers. It could be much better for both passengers and railway finances if trains are run with only AC- 3 Tier and Sleeper Class coaches.

The unfortunate three-train accident at Bahanaga Bazar station, in Odisha, which resulted in around 300 casualities has highlighted the neglect of safety considerations in the railways. Though the exact cause of the mishap will only be revealed by a statutory inquiry, by the Commissioner of Railway Safety, contributory causes are, however, manifest. Reports indicate that there is a huge shortage of 3.15 lakh frontline employees in the railways, which is around 30 per cent of the working strength ~ a large percentage of the vacant posts being in safety staff. KAVACH, an Automatic Train Protection (ATP) system, earlier known as the Train Collision Avoidance System, indigenously developed by the Research Design and Standards Organisation (RDSO) in 2011-12, has been deployed on only 2 per cent of the railway network, though the cost of KAVACH is only Rs. 50 lakh per kilometre. Incidentally, KAVACH is a Safety Integrity Level 4 (SIL-4) certified technology with the probability of error being one in 10,000 years.

According to the CAG Report “Performance Audit on Derailment in Indian Railways” (tabled in Parliament in December 2022) “maintenance of tracks” is the major factor in most derailments. The Report goes on to state how track maintenance has been neglected, with allotment of funds for track renewal works declining over the years, and such funds remaining largely unspent. The Report goes on to mention that derailments accounted for 75 per cent of the total “consequential accidents.” Incidentally, the recent train accident also involved the derailment of Shalimar-Chennai Coromandel Express.

Thankfully, massive relief and rescue efforts have prevented further agony for the survivors. After the Bahanaga Bazar train accident, PM Modi has vowed the strictest possible action against those responsible for the mishaps. Mr. Modi’s views have been echoed by Mr. Pradhan, the Union Minister from Odisha. Probably, ignoring the rot in the railway system, the enquiry into the recent accident will find some lower-level functionary, driver, guard, signal maintainer or linesman responsible for the mishap and public conscience will have to be satisfied by his removal, or even imprisonment.

A point, missed by most, is the antiquated and dilapidated infrastructure of the railways. Replying to a question in the Rajya Sabha on December 13, 2019, the Railway Minister informed that there were 38,850 railway bridges, which were more than 100 years old. Recently, there were a series of railway overbridge collapses; a horrific bridge collapse in Mumbai in 2019 left 22 passengers dead, consequent to which the Railways promised a complete audit of all foot overbridges.

However, a similar tragedy took place, again in Mumbai, within one year. Much of the railway track is more than fifty years old, with more than 100 per cent utilisation on trunk routes. Train bogies of even prestigious trains, like Rajdhani, are more than twenty years old. However, finances earmarked for development and renewal are minuscule; Indian Railways earned revenues of Rs. 2.40 lakh crore for the financial year 2022-23, but it earmarked only Rs.700 crore for Depreciation Reserve Fund (DRF) (down from Rs.7,900 crores in 2014), Rs.1,000 crore for Development Fund (DF) and Rs.1,516.72 crore for Rashtriya Rail Sanraksha Kosh (RRSK).

No wonder, the allegation that the railways concentrate on high-visibility projects to the exclusion of maintenance of systematically important infrastructure has a ring of truth. The lopsided priorities of the Railway Ministry were mentioned in a CAG report, tabled in Parliament in August 2018: “The station development/redevelopment plans mainly address on facilities for the passengers on the station premises and facade of stations only and not on removing constraints and bottlenecks for ensuring timely arrival and departure of trains to/from the stations, which should be one of the most important parameters of the quality of service being provided to the passengers.”

According to the CAG, most railway stations did not have enough platforms to accommodate the trains passing through them, which resulted in delays, yet the Rs.1 lakh crore station redevelopment plan did not address this problem or the problem of insufficient washing and examination pit lines and stabling lines. Frequent late running of trains often results in inadequate time being available for safetyrelated examination of coaches.

Non-availability of important spares in time is another reason for less-than-optimal fitness of rolling stock. A number of high-level committees have studied the functioning of Indian Railways, the latest being the Debroy Committee, appointed by the present Government, which mostly concentrated on structural reforms at the topmost level, and not on the fruitful utilisation of the humungous railway workforce exceeding 11.75 lakh men and women. Consequent to the Debroy Committee Report, officers from all eight railway services were amalgamated into a single Indian Railway Management Service. Many experts feel that this step would further dilute domain expertise, which may not augur well for the railways.

A reality check of railway policies is overdue; a passenger survey would reveal that most passengers want train travel to be safe, comfortable and punctual, rather than railway stations having the look of airport lounges. Systemic changes are required; in view of rapid technological changes, work responsibilities have to be revised at all levels. Demoralised railwaymen have to be enthused. Accountability has to be enforced. Focus on core activities has to be increased, peripheral activities like running of schools and hospitals, has to be curtailed. With its glorious 170-year history, the Railways will come out of the present crisis unscathed, only astute leadership is required.
(The writer is a retired Principal Chief Commissioner of Income-Tax)

Indian government attempts to find scapegoats for horrific Odisha train disaster

17 hours ago

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government and the entire ruling elite are desperately trying to cover up their responsibility for the decades of rail infrastructure neglect and cost-cutting that caused last Friday’s three-train crash in the eastern Indian state Odisha. The Balasore disaster—the deadliest in India in more than a quarter of a century—killed nearly 300 passengers and injured over 1,000.


People try to identify bodies of their relatives who were in Friday's train accident in Balasore, at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences hospital in Bhubaneswar, in the eastern state of Odisha, India, Tuesday, June 6, 2023. [AP Photo]
The media continues to report distraught families of victims still trying to locate loved ones among the dead. Short-staffed hospitals are struggling to treat the overwhelming number of injured passengers.

“Outside hospital, two large screens cycled through photos of bodies, the faces so bloodied and charred that they were hardly recognizable,” the Associated Press said, noting that many of the dead are unclaimed.

“I have been to all the hospitals and I’ve found out nothing,” Lalati Devi, told CNN. She was looking for her 22-year-old son. Many others are going through the same tragic experience.

While the press has reported that over 1,000 people were injured in the crash, there are few details. Some indication of the extent of the injuries, however, was provided by Anushuman Purohi, one of the survivors. “I actually heard the wail of humanity, crying out in pain, crying out for water and crying out for help,” he said to CNN.

“There were a lot of people lying on the tracks, they were injured, there was blood everywhere, there were broken bones, and it was time for us to stop thinking about ourselves and help the injured… It was chaos, it was something I can really not describe… I saw a head without a body, I saw skulls crushed, I saw bodies completely crushed by the metal, it was horrifying.”

On June 4, the Hindu published an article titled, “Senior official flagged serious flaws in Indian Railways’ signalling system in February.” The story referred to a letter by Principal Chief Operation Manager Hari Shankar to the principal chief signal and telecommunications engineer, over a “serious unsafe incident” that occurred at the Hosadurga Road Station in the Birur-Chikjajur section of the Mysore Division in southern India on February 8 this year.

Like the Odisha incident, a signal was given to the Sampark Kranthi Express for passing on one line but the path was altered to another track where a goods train was stationed. A head-on collision between the two trains was only averted because of the alertness of the train’s locomotive engineer who brought it to a halt.

Shankar’s letter warned: “The present incident must be viewed very seriously and immediate corrective actions are required to be taken to rectify the system faults and also sensitizing the staff for not venturing into shortcuts leading to a major mishap.” Last Friday’s tragedy occurred precisely because this warning was totally ignored by authorities.

Prime Minister Modi, in a clear attempt to cover up his government’s responsibility for the Odisha disaster, declared, “Whoever made the mistake, strong action will be taken.”

Indeed, Modi and Railway Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw have already set the stage on how any “inquiry” into the train crash will proceed by announcing that it would involve the central government-controlled Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). In fact, the CBI was pushed to start its own investigation on Monday, long before the railway ministry has completed its findings.

Former Union Revenue Secretary E.A.S. Sarma challenging the rapid involvement of the CBI, told the Wire: “To me, it appears to be a move to mislead the public about the larger issues of failure in governance at the level of the Ministry of Railways.”

Modi and his railway minister are now involved in a desperate damage-control exercise. They are worried that the train disaster is trashing the government’s global image and could impact on the prime minister’s fortunes in next year’s general elections.

The Modi administration and successive Indian governments over decades have consciously allowed the rundown of vital services, such as the vast railway network, which is crucial for millions of workers and the rural poor. There are a staggering 8.4 billion passenger trips across the network each year.

Contemptuous of the transport safety of workers and the rural poor, who cannot afford private vehicles or air travel, India’s ruling elite has failed to fully implement the sort of advanced technologies that prevent “human errors” and “signal failures.” Railway officials have admitted that the “Kavach” anti-collision system was not available on the rail route where Friday’s accident occurred.

Misplaced Priorities And Inadequate Intervention On Safety Led To Odisha Rail Accident, Says Peoples’ Commission On Public Sector And Public Services

Railway Board should reconsider running super-fast trains, recommends the Commission

AdminJune 8, 2023

Statement on Odisha railway accident The Commission, at the outset, wishes to express its deep concern at the occurrence of such a ghastly accident as the one that took place in Odisha recently. The Commission further wishes to express its grief at the death of more than 280 persons and injuries suffered by hundreds of others.

Indian Railways (IR) is among the largest of the CPSUs in the country, annually moving 8.71 billion tonne-km of freight, 500 million passenger-km of passenger, employing more than 1.2 million personnel, who are professionally among the best in the world. IR provides one of the largest social security covers in the country, offering travel facilities at affordable charges for millions of short and medium-distance travellers belonging to low-income groups.

In particular, the Commission wishes its appreciation to thousands of local villagers who spontaneously provided immediate relief to injured passengers. The prompt way in which the NDRF personnel rose to the occasion is commendable.

Misplaced priorities and inadequate intervention on safety

In view of the critical dependence of the economy on railways and the increasing demand for railway movement of both freight and passenger traffic, the Railways ought to make additional investments in its basic infrastructure facilities such as the carrying capacity of its aging tracks, the signalling systems, the anti-collision systems (Kavach), and other auxiliary facilities, crucially required for enhancing the safety of railway movement and its capacity. Of late, the policymakers have chosen to introduce high-speed passenger trains such as bullet trains and Vande Bharats, which in turn call for matching investments in the railway infrastructure.

Unfortunately, the emphasis placed by the policymakers on speed has not been matched by their focus on safety, resulting in several ghastly accidents such as the latest accident thatoccurred in Odisha near Balasore. While one expects the planners in the Ministry of Railways to make a professional analysis of the factors that have led to such accidents and draw lessons to improve the existing safety systems, accidents come and go by without lessons drawn.

When an accident takes place, the senior public functionaries seem to feel satisfied by announcing palliatives such as ex-gratia relief for the victims and their families and displaying sentiment and emotion, knowing well that such limited relief does not address the immense human trauma to which the affected families are subject. It is also not uncommon to find senior public functionaries to place the blame on sabotage, rather than the technical factors and the institutional system for governance that lie behind those accidents. The latest accident in Odisha is yet another example of this.

Ignored Anil Kakodar committee recommendations, Justice Khanna Committee Report and CAG observations

There have been several reports on the ways and means of enhancing safety in railways, including those submitted by technical experts to the Railway Board, the reports submitted by the CAG to the Parliament and comprehensive reports brought out by Parliament Committees. A review of the action taken on each of these reports shows how the Ministry is yet to act on each of the important recommendations in those reports. For example, the High Level Safety Review Committee (“Kakodkar Committee”) submitted their report in 2012 and made several far reaching recommendations on railway safety which include the setting up of an independent statutory railway safety authority, strengthening of the RDSO and the adoption of an Advanced Signalling System (akin to the European Train Control System) for the entire trunk route length of 19,000 km within 5 years. More than a decade has elapsed since then but such an independent regulatory authority, directly accountable to the Parliament, is yet to be set up. As far as the recommendation on the signalling system is concerned, the Ministry could have involved highly professional CPSEs such as Bharat Electronics Ltd (BEL) and Central Electronics Ltd (CEL) in locating the most advanced signalling technologies in the world and indigenised the same for adoption in IR, which has not been the case.

Acute congestion on the trunk routes:

Today rail in India suffers from subpar safety performance and slow speed of trains. Both these problems have to be dealt with together, one at the cost of the other would be undesirable for the future of rail transport in the country, particularly passenger travel. By Railway Board’s own data in the National Rail Plan, congestion has reached critical levels on about 10,000 km of the trunk routes (the quadrilateral and the two diagonals and some other routes) which are carrying trains at 125 to 150% of the capacity against the desirable limit of 70 to 90% capacity utilization. This acute congestion has resulted in inadequate windows of traffic blocks for the essential routine repair and maintenance of the track and other line infrastructure and insufficient slack to deal with operational hindrances and emergencies. Overcrowding in trains, particularly in the non-AC general and sleeper class coaches, is another serious concern which also results in higher fatalities in accidents. Acute congestion on the trunk routes and overcrowding in trains are adversely impacting both safety and speed.

The Vision 2020 plan for the future growth and expansion of Indian Railways, presented to the Parliament in 2009, had envisaged raising of speed on the existing trunk routes to 160-200 km/ph and building new higher speed lines. Evidently, this acute congestion on the critical trunk routes is the main reason for the failure to raise speed on the existing lines through upgradation of track, signals etc to compete with the road and air modes. No new lines have been constructed on trunk routes to cater to the growing demand for more trains.

Demands a comprehensive systemic evaluation

RDSO seems to have relied on a few private companies for introducing electronic signal locking systems such as Block Proving by Axle Counter (BPAC) using UFSBI. Considering that the indications so far in the specific case of the Odisha accident point to a possible failure of the BPAC system, it calls for a technical review of the functioning of BPAC systems, the extent to which they are failure-proof and their vulnerability to manual interference or manual lapses. Such an examination will be possible if the factors leading to the accident are first subject to a systematic technical evaluation rather than being hastily subject to an investigation by the CBI, as is the case now, on a somewhat subjective assumption that the accident was caused by sabotage.

The Commission has come across a disturbing communication dated 9-2-2023 from PCOM, South Western Railway (it is available in the public domain) on the failure of the BPAC system at Hosadurga Road station of Birur-Chikjajur section of Mysore division on 8-2-2023, involving Sampark Kranti Express, leading to an “averted head-on collision” with a goods train. This was analert that should have woken up the Railway Board to the possibility of the BPAC systems failing at times. The Commission wonders whether the Ministry has acted on such an important alert and ordered a thorough evaluation of the BPAC systems in position. This also brings us to the question whether the RDSO needs further strengthening.

Demands filling of vacancies and an end to outsourcing and privatization

The Commission wishes to point out that whenever an accident such as the recent one in Odisha takes place, the tendency on the part of the Ministry is to presume that there are manual lapses and hold the lower-level functionaries such as the railway station personnel responsible for the accident rather than introspecting on whether its own policies and programmes have indirectly contributed to the recurrence of such accidents. The complete lack of concern shown for the filling of vacancies in
Railways which is more than 3 lakhs, increasing contractual labour replacing regular ones, the efforts on asset monetisation and privatisation need to be mentioned as the other important example of misplaced priorities. The Parliamentary Committee on railway safety pointed out that 60% vacancy among staff for maintenance of tracks, inspection of railway bridges etc. has adversely affected track maintenance and inspection, which is crucial for minimizing the occurrence of accidents.

Speed vs Safety:

While faster trains no doubt help Railways provide relief to passengers, though a small proportion of the total volume of passenger traffic, thus helping it to compete with road transport and airlines, increasing the speed of trains in a congested section will slow down other passenger trains catering to short- and medium-distance, low-income passengers as well as freight trains. In fact, if at all speeding train movement is to be considered, it should be in the case of freight-carrying trains, to maximize economic returns.

The Commission feels that zero-tolerance for accidents is far more important than indiscriminately launching super-fast trains such as Vande Bharats. The highest priority should be given to safety, before introducing any more super-fast trains.

The Commission makes the following recommendations:

  1. The Railway Board must carry out an analysis on the adverse impact of super-fast Vande Bharats will have on the average speed of other trains on which lakhs of short-distance passengers who cannot afford to pay heavy charges depend. The Railway Board should not continue to launch more and more speeding Vande Bharats, without ascertaining the speed-worthiness of the tracks and the efficacy of the BPAC systems.
  2. Considering that there was already one serious instance of failure of the BPAC system on 8-2-2023 in the South West Railways, and one more now in Odisha, causing a large number of fatalities and injuries and the consequent human trauma, the Railway Board should reconsider running super-fast trains, knowing well that there is a possibility of more such BPAC failures occurring. To provide accident-free railway travel, the Ministry of Railways should shift its focus from speed to safety.
  3. To deal with the chronic problem of heavy congestion, which has reached critical levels on about 10,000 route kilometer of trunk routes, Railway Board should come with a detailed long term plan for removing the chronic bottlenecks and upgrading the existing lines for 160-200 kmph on key trunk routes and adding new double-track lines for the higher speed of 200-250 kmph. The plan should not only be prepared but diligently adhered to in the next 10 to 15 years.
  4. As far as accountability for the lapses that led to the Odisha accident is concerned, the Commission feels that those at senior levels in the government and in the Railway Ministry should own it more than those at the lower levels.
  5. Considering the magnitude of the accident and the wide range of complex technical issues, instead of CBI which has a history of inordinate delays (NIA has not filed any report on the Kuneru and Kanpur accident cases though 7 years have passed) a panel of three Commissioners of Safety (to be chosen by the Chief Commissioner of Safety) should be constituted to complete the study started by one Commissioner of Safety which should also look at the system failures like non-utilisation of funds allotted, huge vacancies in the safety category staff, inadequate upgradation of the existing trunk routes and adding new double-track lines on the key trunk routes to eliminate congestion, independence of the Railway board, non-implementation of earlier recommendations and plans, and suggest clear steps to be taken. A panel of three CRSs instead of just one can be expected to do a more thorough technical examination and be less susceptible to outside pressures. In the present scheme of safety regulation, the Railway Safety Commissioner submits his report to the Railway Ministry. The experience so far is that the Ministry often glosses over the findings, without effective follow-up action. In order to obviate the scope for it, we feel that all Railway Safety Commissioners’ reports be placed before the Parliament for effective action. The RDSO should collaborate with IITs, CSIR labs, Universities to develop technologies/ adopt technologies to suit our country,
    and to carry out studies on range of topics such as demand and capacity, safety, punctuality, competition offered by the growing road and air modes and prepare a long time road map instead of non-implemented National Railway Plan.
  6. The focus should be on strengthening the Public sector Railways instead of talking of Privatisation creating a confusion and demoralisation in the minds of executives and employees, filling up of all vacancies immediately, converting contract employees into permanent employees with accountability and development of appropriate technologies.
  7. Governance is crucial, autonomy with accountability should be provided to the Railway Board instead of making it sub servient to the Minister and Parliament’s supervision should be strengthened.
  8. Bring back Rail Budget instead of submerging it with the union budget as it existed before.
  9. Instead of finding scape goats and trying to shift blame, the Govt and Railway Ministry should own up responsibility and start remedial action as suggested.
  10. Invest in renewal of over aged assets like track, bridge, signal etc and clear arrears. Draw effective plan for dedicated freight corridors ,dedicated express lines, expansion of network, increase the average speed of goods trains and passenger services and to increase the railway share of goods and passengers with government investments like done by China 11. The declining share of Railways in the transport sector should be stopped and rail’s share should be increased to provide the social security and safety at affordable rates, reasonable speed and adequate comfort to the majority of the Citizens.
  11. The Commission is setting up a Task Force to monitor the action taken by the Ministry of Railways on the People’s Commission’s recommendations above, so that the
    Commission may keep the public at large of the action taken.
The above report is based on the press release/recommendations spelt out by Peoples’ Commission on Public Sector and Public Services

Electronic Signally system is foolproof. Govt believes there was manual changes/sabotage were made causing this accident, so a simultaneous crime probe by India's CBI was also ordered.

LOL nope

India train disaster: Gov’t was forewarned on danger, report says​


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