Safety on Indian Railways (IR) is of utmost importance and requires overseeing the safety of many different classes of stakeholders. It involves the safety of passengers, employees, users of level crossings, and of those who live or work in the vicinity of railway infrastructure. Endeavours to achieve permanent improvements in safety standards are based on structural reduction of the probability of fatalities, injuries and damage.
IR’s safety performance
India has witnessed an improvement in the safety performance of passenger trains over the past decade. The total number of accidents decreased from 195 in 2006-07 to 135 in 2014-15. Train accidents per million train km came down from 0.23 in 2006-07 to 0.11 (provisional estimate) in 2014-15, due to a series of initiatives and measures undertaken by IR. Further to this, derailments and the number of unmanned level crossings (UMLCs), the two main reasons for accidents, witnessed a steep fall in the past 10 years. Also, the number of accidents due to derailment fell from 96 to 63, while those due to UMLCs fell from 72 to 50 between 2006-07 and 2014-15 respectively.
In recent years, there has been a decline in the number of freight train accidents. During the past three years, 88 significant derailments of goods trains took place. Although the number of accidents reduced from 28 in 2011-12 to 18 in 2013-14, there was a rise in 2014-15 with 19 derailment cases during the first eight months. About 72 per cent of derailments of goods trains were caused by errors of railway staff, 15 per cent due to sabotage, and the remaining 13 per cent due to other reasons, which include failure of persons other than railway staff, equipment failure, and incidental factors.
Between 2010-11 and 2014-15, derailments declined while level crossing accidents increased as a percentage of all accidents. As per IR, accidents on UMLCs account for 60 per cent of total deaths.
Initiatives undertaken by IR to improve safety are in line with the recommendations of the High-level Safety Review Committee under the chairmanship of Anil Kakodkar. As of December 2015, of the 106 recommendations of the Committee, 68 have been accepted by IR (22 have already been implemented and 46 are under implementation); the remaining 38 recommendations are under consideration by the Ministry of Railways (MoR). Some of the key initiatives undertaken by IR are discussed below.
- Elimination of UMLCs: IR eliminated 4,454 UMLCs between March 2011 and January 2015. Meanwhile, 290 level crossing gates were interlocked with signals for road users during 2014-15. For the development of train-actuated warning devices, an MoU has been signed between the Research Design and Standards Organisation (RDSO) and IIT, Kanpur. The MoR is in talks with IIT Kanpur, and the Indian Space Research Organisation to develop solutions to alert people of approaching trains at unmanned crossings.
- Anti-collision devices (ACDs): IR deployed ACDs developed by the Konkan Railway Corporation as a pilot project on 1,736 route km on the Katihar-New Jalpaiguri-Guwahati-Lumding-Tinsukia-Dibrugarh-Ledo and Kumedpur-Malda sections of Northeast Frontier Railway.
- Train collision avoidance system (TCAS): A pilot project for indigenous development of TCAS has been taken up by RDSO; a pilot project undertaken by South Central Railway in Secunderabad division on a 250 km section was reported to be successful; field trials of TCAS have been conducted on 32 route km section (4 stations) with five locomotives during 2014-15.
- Train protection and warning system (TPWS): TPWS has been installed as a pilot project covering over 50 route km of the Chennai-Gummidipundi section on all electric multiple unit (EMU) rakes under Southern Railway, 25 route km from Dum Dum to Kavi Subhash Nagar on all EMU rakes under Kolkata Metro Rail, and over 200 route km on the Hazrat Nizamuddin-Agra Cantt section.
- Fog safety device: The Delhi division of Northern Railway has deployed 250 fog safety devices for safe movement and the software of these devices has been upgraded in 2015. Further, detonators are used by the railways to alert maintenance crews of approaching trains during thick fog and the Delhi division has kept more than 50,000 detonators for the winter of 2015-16.
- Initiatives specific to road overbridges (RoBs)/road underbridges (RuBs): In order to ensure timely completion of already sanctioned works of RoBs and RuBs, several initiatives have been undertaken in the recent past. These include signing MoUs with the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways to eliminate all level crossings on national highway corridors; commissioning a web-based application for online submission and approval of various plans and drawings related to RoBs/RuBs of the National Highways Authority of India/state governments/other agencies within 60 days; soliciting the Ministry of Rural Development to include the work of elimination of UMLCs and their replacement by RoBs/RuBs/other measures in their list of works under rural employment and road-related schemes; and approaching the Ministry of Finance (MoF) for enhanced allotment of funds by suitably amending the Central Road Fund Act.
- Initiatives to make MLC gates and stations safe: In November 2015, IR launched automatic operation of banner flags at MLC gates on the Kanpur-Jhansi section. To enhance efficiency and safety in train operation, modern electrical/electronic interlocking systems with central panels have been deployed. Complete track circuiting and multiple-aspect colour-light signalling were provided at 245 stations during 2014-15. Further, panel/electronic interlocking systems have been provided at 5,336 stations (85 per cent of total interlocked stations).
- Fire protection and suppression: An automatic fire and smoke detection system has recently been deployed in three rakes of the New Delhi-Bhubaneswar Rajdhani, New Delhi-Jammu Rajdhani and Kacheguda-Tirupati/Guntakal double decker rake. Provision of this system has been further sanctioned for 1,750 coaches, which include 500 non-air-conditioned coaches as well.
In addition, a host of measures have been undertaken by IR to prevent train derailments. These include standardisation of track structure with 60 kg rails and prestressed concrete (PSC) sleepers on all the broad gauge routes, especially on high density routes; upgradation of track structure consisting of PSC sleepers; manufacture of long rail panels of 260 metres x 130 metres to minimise the number of welded joints; and progressive use of modern track maintenance machines such as self-propelled ultrasonic rail testing cars for rail flaw detection.
Fund allocation and investment on safety
Safety works, including track renewal, bridge works, RoBs, RuBs, etc. are mainly undertaken through the Railway Safety Fund. About 3 per cent of the total planned investment goes towards safety works. The share has remained at this level for the past five fiscal years. As per IR, investments in safety have also suffered on account of low internal generation of resources.
In September 2015, IR sought Rs 1,000 billion from the MoF as a Special Safety Fund to renew and maintain rail tracks, upgrade bridges, and remove UMLCs.
Expenditure on RoBs/RuBs almost trebled during the 2010-15 period, increasing at a compound annual growth rate of 27 per cent. During April-July 2015, the MoR incurred an expenditure of Rs 4.5 billion on RoBs.
IR faces a massive gap between demand and infrastructure availability leading to stress, especially in operating passenger trains. The indiscipline of road users and of passengers leads to a large number of accidents. About 43 per cent of accidents occur on account of failure of “Other than railway staff’”. Shortage of funds for safety- related projects is another major concern. This also leads to poor maintenance of assets. Currently, there is a difference in classification of safety items across zonal railways, which necessitates the standardisation of the items procured for safety. The Commissioners of Railway Safety, who are the safety watchdogs, have in fact minimal roles at the operational level. Also, there is a lack of evacuation standards/escape windows post accidents. Since safety is multi-disciplinary in nature, it has suffered due to the existing departmentalisation within IR.
The availability of quality/skilled workers as well as their retention is a major challenge. There are compatibility issues of proven technological solutions in foreign railways with respect to Indian conditions. Conventional methods of inspection and monitoring of assets needs to be replaced by advanced/ international technologies. However, funding constraints will continue to deter IR from adopting such technologies. Therefore, the assistance of the RDSO and other Indian companies need to be taken in this direction.
The way forward
In order to curb fatalities, there must be a focus on track renewal, the renewal of overaged distressed bridges, mechanised maintenance of tracks, provision of mobile train radio communications and train protection systems, and upgrades of mainline coaches with smoke and fire detection systems. Upgrades of training institutes, running rooms and crew lobbies, and emphasis on continuous training and on skill upgradation measures will further improve safety.