Watch: Why has railway travel become so dangerous recently in India?

Despite the cries of ‘sabotage’, the fault lies in over-using the system and under-investing in safety measures.

Here’s a shocking statistic. According to a 2012 government safety panel report, Indian Railways is involved in the deaths of nearly 15,000 people every year. By any standards, that’s a “massacre”.

Indian Railways takes pride in being the largest network in the world with 12,000 trains ferrying two crore people every day.

The majority of these deaths are caused either when people cross the railway tracks and are run over, or when trains collide or derail. Blame an inherent lack of safety concerns, negligence, chronic under-investment, and systemic factors.

In India, as much as 40% of the railway divisions currently run above the line capacity, according to a paper issued by the Ministry of Railways. Line capacity is the number of trains a track can handle in 24 hours. Naturally, this compromises safety.

Between 1950 and 2016, there was acute under-investment in rail infrastructure, according to a Ministry of Railways report on “Safety and Security in Railways”. The passenger and freight traffic increased by 1,344% and 1,642%, respectively, against a meagre 23% expansion of route.

Another paper in the Physica journal stated that rail traffic in the Gangetic plains was so excessive that “if all trains were to travel in accordance with their schedule, then the present infrastructure would not be able to handle the resultant traffic flow.” This is cited as the reason for frequent delays and increase in collisions.

Indian Railways has upgraded its technology and adopted new methods of welding and testing its rails over the past few years, yet the traffic and congestion on the rails is too high to implement this technology properly.

Following the three disastrous railroad accidents depicted in the video (above), Finance Minister Arun Jaitley focused on reform and safety of the Indian Railways in this year’s Union budget. He announced the creation of a Rashtriya Rail Samraksha Kosh (Rail Safety Fund) with a five-year corpus of Rs 1 lakh crore, of which Rs 20,000 crore will be spent annually on safety-related work on the railways, including track renewal and signal upgrades.

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