Emerging as a very serious issue, safety has been accorded the highest priority by the Ministry of Railways (MoR). Recently, the alarming capacity utilisation levels and an increasing number of accidents on the Indian Railways’ (IR) network have triggered growing concerns over the safety of the carrier. The two primary causes of accidents have been train derailments and unmanned level crossings (UMLCs). Together, they accounted for almost 89 per cent of accidents between 2011-12 and 2015-16 and 92 per cent of the accidents in 2016-17. Taking cognisance of the situation, the MoR has placed an increasing thrust on railway safety and the elimination of UMLCs. To this end, greater investments have also been announced, which are aimed at improving safety levels in the sector.
The increasing thrust by the government on safety has necessitated an increasing fund requirement as well. To this end, allocations worth Rs 730.65 billion (including funds of the Rashtriya Rail Sanraksha Kosh [RRSK]) have been made for safety works in Budget 2018-19, registering an increase of 6.3 per cent as compared to the revised estimates of 2017-18.
The RRSK is a Rs 1 trillion railway safety fund which was announced in Budget 2017-18 for a period of five years. In 2018-19, it has been allotted Rs 50 billion from budgetary sources,
Rs 100 billion from the Railway Safety Fund received as IR’s share from the Central Road Fund and Rs 50 billion from IR’s revenues.
Safety initiatives and impact
During the period 2011-12 to 2016-17, the total number of accidents on IR’s network decreased by 20 per cent, from 130 to 104. In 2017-18 (up to January 31, 2018), the number of train accidents decreased to 65 from 95 in 2016-17. Despite the quantum increase in the volume of traffic carried by IR over the years, the number of accidents per million train km, an important index of safety, came down from 0.23 in 2006-07 to 0.1 in 2015-16 and further to 0.09 in 2016-17.
Derailment has been the biggest cause of railway accidents with its share standing at 73 per cent in 2016-17, an increase of about 30 per cent from 2011-12. During 2017-18 (till January 2018), the share of derailments was about 70 per cent. Meanwhile, the number of level crossing accidents declined significantly from 54 in 2011-12 to 20 in 2016-17. This has been primarily due to the MoR’s initiatives to eliminate all UMLCs by September 2018.
Taking into consideration the abysmal safety scenario and the priority being accorded to passenger safety, the MoR has undertaken several initiatives over the past few years.
The elimination of UMLCs has been a major step in this regard. As of April 2017, the total number of UMLCs in the country stood at 7,701. Given that they accounted for more than a third of all rail accidents in 2016-17, IR has revised its target for the elimination of all UMLCs to September 2018 from the earlier 2020. Steps to improve safety at manned level crossing gates and railway stations are also being taken. Further, the MoR is undertaking two projects on a trial basis to develop and implement a satellite-based warning system and a radio and radio frequency identification-based vandal-proof advance warning system to warn road users of trains approaching UMLCs. The systems will be adopted based on the extended trial report.
IR has also introduced new technologies to provide automatic train protection to prevent accidents caused due to overspeeding and crossing signals at the danger sign. Some of these are train protection warning systems (TPWSs), train collision avoidance systems (TCASs) and anti-collision devices. At present, TPWSs have been operationalised on 342 route km and are under implementation at additional 3,330 route km sections of suburban and high-density routes.
Other safety measures include the installation of CCTV cameras at all stations by the end of 2018; the use of anti-fog LED lights in locomotives to ensure unhindered and safe train operations during the winters and the installation of end-of-train telemetry and on-board condition monitoring systems.
The way forward
In the coming years, the RRSK will play a crucial role in improving passenger safety by meeting the funding gaps and ensuring the effective implementation of safety initiatives by IR. Further, IR plans to implement an advanced version of the European train control system on its entire broad gauge network of 60,000 route km. It also plans to eliminate all unmanned broad gauge crossings by September 2018. From 2018-19 onwards, IR plans to manufacture only Link Hoffmann Busch coaches (known for greater safety features) and gradually phase out the existing Integral Coach Factory coaches. Upon successful implementation, these measures are expected to improve safety levels across the railway network.