Track, the problem


  • While India is preparing for bullet train, the largest passenger system in the world with 23 million passengers every day, the Indian Railways was hit by 78 derailments in 2016-17 with 193 people dead, the most in 10 years.
  • Although accidents in general have fallen over 10 years but the derailments have risen over this period, an indication that trains are increasingly at peril.

Facts & Figures:

  • Train derailments that indicate faults in tracks, besides other things, have always haunted safety in the Indian Railways. What is worrying is that the frequency of derailment is rising. 
  • According to the studies, the increased traffic has also resulted in an unbalanced growth.
  • The study, headed by Niloy Gonguly, shows that train traffic has substantially increased in the Indo-Gangetic plain over the past two decades and, as a result, bulk of the train accidents happen in this high-traffic region.
  • There is a strong relation between the traffic density and track condition. The high traffic also impacts track maintenance and repair work.
  • The Indian Railways has a system of scheduled inspections and patrolling of track. Tracks are inspected daily on foot by a key man. Also, senior and junior engineers use trollies and fast trains to check tracks at least once in a fortnight. Senior officials should inspect every two-three months. An engineer with the Northern Railways says thorough inspections rarely happen because of “large number of vacancies in key man and due to unauthorised absenteeism”.

Committee Reports:

  • According to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on the Safety and Security in Railways, though the traffic of both passengers and freight over the Railways network had increased by 1,344 per cent and 1,642 per cent respectively over the past 64 years, the route kilometres had grown by only 23 per cent.
  • 40 per cent of the total track sections in the country were operating beyond their “line capacity”, a measure of how many trains a track section can support in a day.
  • According to the Parliamentary Committee report, the progress of track renewals is constantly coming down since the last six years; High traffic has also slowed down the process of replacing old tracks with new. 
  • The 12th Parliamentary Standing Committee explains the poor performance as “suffered from chronic and significant under investment as well as low internal generation of resources”.
  • The Anil Kakodar committee (set up in 2012 by the Union Ministry of Railways) to review safety standards, suggested that all train coaches be replaced to Linke Hofmann Busch (LHB) coaches as they have special couplers that ensure coaches do not collide with each other in case of derailment.

Measures taken by Railways:

  • The government had introduced Flash Butt Welding process to connect tracks, which has higher strength than the earlier AluminoThermic method.
  • The introduction of an Online Track Management System where all the data collected through monitoring and inspections are put for easy access within the Railways. The Railways can contain derailments even if it embraces indigenous technologies, several of them developed by the Research Designs & Standards Organisation of the Railways (RDSO).
  • There has been development of several technologies between 2005 and 2009 under the Technology Mission for Railway Safety (TMRS). One of the technologies developed was the Satellite Imaging for Rail Navigation which allows continuous tracking of every train for its location, speed and direction.
  • The technology is currently fitted in just 43 trains, such as Rajdhani, Shatabdi and Duranto. It should be extended to all trains and the technology can be used for warning trains in case of danger. 
  • Currently, only a few trains such as Rajdhani use LHB coaches. TMRS has also developed a Derailment Detection Device, the first of its kind in the world, which uses a three-axis sensor that informs the driver if the train crosses a prescribed speed. It also has the ability to apply brakes automatically if the train overspeeds. TMRS has also developed corrosion-prevention rails.
  • In 2011, the Sam Pitroda committee recommended the implementation of Train Protection and Warning System, under which if a driver tries to jump a stop signal, then the train can stop automatically. It can also be effective against derailment due to over speeding.
  • The government took a step in the right direction when it announced the Rs 1 lakh crore Rashtriya Rail Sanraksha Kosh in the 2017 Union budget, but it alone will not be sufficient.


There are enough technologies available to contain rail derailments, the challenge remains in the funding and intent. It is need of an hour to pause and reassess our strategy for providing sustainable, assured and preferred logistics services to the nation and contribute towards nation building.

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