Rail Safety: Lacunas


In spite of the several measures to improve the functioning of Indian railways, there is an immediate need to address some issues that make the rail network safer for travel. In its 2022 report titled “Derailments in Indian Railways”, the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) flagged multiple shortcomings in the safety and security of the railways in India. The audit covering the period from April 2017 to March 2021 was to ascertain if measures to prevent derailments and collisions were clearly laid down and implemented by the Ministry of Railways.
According to the report, there were several shortcomings in the functioning of the Indian railways, severely jeopardising the safety of the mass network. It reported a shortfall of anywhere between 30 to 100 per cent in the inspection of tracks amongst other things. Of the 1,129 ‘Inquiry Reports’ of derailment accidents in 16 Zonal Railways, 422 derailments were attributable to the Engineering Department. Within this, 171 cases were due to poor “maintenance of track” and 156 due to “deviation of track parameters beyond permissible limits”. Errors of the Mechanical department caused 182 derailments whereas 154 accidents were attributable to the loco pilots with “Bad driving/overspeeding” also emerging as key factors.
The report made several recommendations ranging from strict adherence to the scheduled timelines for conducting and finalising accident inquiries. The report also noted a significant reduction in funding allocations for improving the safety of the rail network. Total expenditure on Priority-I works from the Rashtriya Rail Sanraksha Kosh (RRSK) declined from 81.55 per cent in 2017-18 to 73.76 per cent in 2019-20. With the expansion of routes and the introduction of modern coaches with better facilities and faster speeds, there is a need to upgrade the track infrastructure to support the capacity expansion. However, this is not in line with the funds allocated for track expansion and improvement. Fund allocation for track renewal went down from 9,600 crore rupees in 2018-19 to 7,400 crore rupees in 2019-20 due to underutilisation.