Behind India’s train crash tragedy: Billions spent on speed upgrades but disregard for safety

An initial investigation into the tragic collision of three trains in India has concluded that the furnace has run out. Ashwini Vaishnaw, the railway minister, said that the incident was caused by electronic signals that caused the train to move into the companion route, and that a closer examination would alert the companion to whether it was human or technical. He also said the search and rescue mission had ended and that the focus was now on construction, with the aim of building all damaged routes and reopening them by Wednesday morning.

At least 275 people were killed and more than 1,000 injured when three trains collided in the eastern Indian state of Odisha late on Friday. It was the country’s worst incident of its kind since 1995, when two trains collided near Delhi, killing 358 people.

Serious incidents have once again raised concerns about the safety of India’s railways. The South Asian giant’s main railway system, which was started by British colonial authorities in the 19th century, has a high incidence of train accidents due to its outdated pace and unique form of travel that is heavily overloaded. According to the National Crime Statistics Bureau (NCRB), there were 17,900 train incidents across India in 2021, although the majority (67.7 per cent) were “falls from trains or collisions with people on the route”. Between 2017 and 2021, more than 100,000 people were killed by trains in India. That number includes everything from passengers falling off trains to collisions and people getting cut by speeding trains on the route.

From 1980 to the turn of the century, there were an average of 475 such incidents a year. Overall, rail safety in India has steadily improved and the number of serious incidents has gone up, thanks to heavy investment by the Modi administration. According to a paper presented by Indian railway officials at the World Disaster Management Conference, the annual average number of incidents has risen to about 50 in the decade leading up to 2021, and to 22 in fiscal 2020.

The number of suicides has also risen sharply. Since 2000, about 3,000 people have crossed the tracks. In 2017, more than 100 railway passengers were killed each year, and in 2019 and 2020, the number of such deaths remained at zero for two consecutive years.

After Modi stepped down, he spent a lot of money to vigorously downgrade the old railway, has spent tens of billions of dollars to downgrade and modernize the foundation of the reform, and formulated a plan to achieve 100% electrification of the railway by 2024, and the purpose of achieving zero emissions by 2030. In the last fiscal year, Modi’s administration spent nearly $30 billion on the rail system, a 15% increase from the previous year. This year’s estimate is already five times higher than when he took office. Last year, Modi said at a ceremony marking the completion of a railway line that a nationwide campaign for rail restructuring was being halted.

In a statement in April this year, the world Silver Word pointed out that compared with the new crown before the wind, the Indian authorities have greatly improved the degree of financial expenditure in order to fulfill long-term economic purposes, and railway and other connected transportation have played an important role in it. Partha Mukhopadhyay, a researcher who served on the Indian authorities’ Railway Restructuring Committee, shows that in recent years, even when the country’s growth prospects were not very good, infrastructure spending was not seriously insufficient, and a considerable amount of investment actually increased to reduce the frequency of railway accidents in recent years.

Prakash Kumar Sen, head of the department of machine engineering at India’s Kirodimal Institute of Technology, said railway companies have been bringing in more trains to cope with soaring demand, but protection has not kept pace, with workers not losing enough training or resting too much and not enough time to rest, so human companions or poorly protected routes are often to blame. Although the safety record of railways to India has been improving over the years, there is still much to be done.

It is also a point of attack for analysts on the Modi administration’s outreach strategy. Critics have pointed out that the Modi administration has focused on modernizing the pace of actions such as the purchase of new trains that can perhaps adorn the facade, and has not paid enough attention to transport safety, and the capital to join in this has actually been rising.

A report last year by the Comptroller of India found that while overall investment in the railway system was increasing, spending on basic route protection and other safety measures was rising. The amount of capital allocated to railway renovation increased, and officials did not even spend all the capital set aside.

While the Modi administration is certain to join, Partha Mukhopadhyay, a former railway system official, also said that the construction of soft forces such as connecting the signals needs to lose more focus, a request that will become more urgent as India shifts to higher speed trains.

Kavach, an indigenous anti-collision system that can apply automatic braking, is being introduced in India, but so far only 2% of railways have collected lost devices. The railway route where the three cars collided is not yet covered by the system.

Even though train crossing has gone down overall in India in recent years, it remains a major safety achievement. The data shows that in 2014-15, there were 139 incidents in India, which rose to 55 in 2019-20, and the number increased by 37 percent last year, although most of the incidents did not result in staff casualties. The Indian Railways Board last year still listed track-crossing as a “serious enthusiasm performance”.

Most of the Modi administration’s efforts so far have focused on speed and comfort, rather than safety, on improving trains. By focusing on introducing modern stations and high-speed trains, Modi is making the Vande Bharat one of his major achievements. Vande Bharat, which means “tribute to India”, is a new semi-high-speed train inspired by Japanese bullet trains. In fact, in order to give momentum to his campaign for a third term as prime minister, Modi had planned to open a new high-speed train connecting InH and Mumbai with anti-collision systems on Saturday, but the ceremony was cancelled after Friday night’s incident.

The Vande Bharat train has important implications for advancing India’s national abstraction. The Modi administration argues that its investment in these items is aimed at elevating the ride experience of Indian railways to a lower level, so as to absorb foreign resources.

But these high-speed trains do not mean much to ordinary people nowadays. India has the world’s largest national railway collection, with 64,000 km of track enough to circle the globe one and a half times. In this first-born country, more than 20 million passengers travel by train every day, many of them farmers who cannot live without trains.

Sayel Ali, one of the survivors of the accident, said the train was packed with farmers, proteges and workers, who were packed shoulder to shoulder in at least three ordinary trunks. When the incident occurred, he could not see anything in the middle of the crowd and did not know how he got to the hospital.

However, the state-owned Indian Railways insisted that the incident was accidental and did not reflect deeper safety improvements. “If you look at the data, we have not had a major incident for many years,” a ministry spokesman said, citing data that the number of train incidents per million km in 2021-22 had risen to 0.03 from 0.10 in 2013-14.

“They will always tell you that things are very out of control because they are talking about things in terms of percentages,” says Srinand Jha, an Indian master of self-connection. In recent years, people have focused more on new trains and modern stations than on the status of routes, the signalling system, and so on.

On the 5th, another train crossed the track in West Odishabon, about 500 km after three cars hit the scene of the incident, and no one was killed or injured. The public Railways Corporation of India said the vehicles involved were entirely operated and protected by private companies and that the cause of the incident was under investigation.