The railway accident this weekend in West Bengal’s Malda district, where a portion of the Guwahati-Bangalore Express derailed onto another track and led to a collision with another train, served a combined reminder of two problems, usually separate, plaguing the railways. Three weeks earlier, it was the Kalka Mail that had derailed in Malwan, Uttar Pradesh.
Each problem has been prescribed a solution — more personnel to maintain tracks and cocahes to prevent derailment, an automatic device to prevent collision — but neither has been fully implemented.
According to Railway Ministry data, last year’s 165 accidents, which killed 252 people, included 80 derailments and nine collisions. This year, 122 were killed between April and July, 65 of them in the Kalka Mail accident.
Most derailments happen because of fractures in railway tracks, erosion underneath, or mechanical problems in the rolling stock. A preliminary inquiry into the West Bengal accident revealed “soil erosion” had led to the tracks sinking, causing the derailment.
Officials say it is up to the safety crew to check and fix these errors, replacing overage tracks and rolling stock wherever necessary. When a train derails for such reasons, it is put down to “human failure”. In 2010, a report by the Commissioner of Railway Safety said that four major mishaps, which killed 219, took place due to “human failure.”
After the Malda accident, Railway Minister Dinesh Trivedi said he was mulling the formation of a “Safety Board” that would be responsible for all accidents, including collisions and derailments. Finding the members for such a board might, however, be easier said than done, with 1.38 lakh safety-related posts lying empty in the railways.
A senior railway official offered an explanation for the continuing vacancies. “The railways have suffered a series of problems like a scam in the Recruitment Board. The vacancies could not be filled due to all this. The process is on, they will be filled in two more months.”
For collision, the preventive device remains the subject of a debate over its effectiveness, 10 years after its development by Konkan Railway Corporation Ltd. So far, the Anti Collision Device (ACD) has been implemented successfully only on the Northeast Frontier Railway — covering 1,736 km in a country with a 64,000 km rail network — and started as a pilot project in some sectors.
ACD-fitted trains brake automatically if the device detects any obstacle or infringement ahead. In the last Railway Budget, an