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Bikaner Guwahati Train incident – Why do trains derail? Major Reasons For Such Accidents

Bikaner Guwahati Train incident – Why do trains derail? Major Reasons For Such Accidents


  • GS 3 || Economy || Infrastructure || Transportation

Why in the news?

  • At least nine persons were killed and over 40 others injured after 12 coaches of the Bikaner-Guwahati Express derailed recently in West Bengal’s Jalpaiguri district.
  • Derailments on the tracks of Indian Railways have always been a big technical and management challenge.

Latest data regarding rail accidents in India

  • As per the latest data, train accidents have come down from 118 in 2013-14 to 73 in 2017-18.
  • The number of train accidents in India FY 2014-2020. The number of train accidents across India was 54at the end of the financial year 2020.
  • The industry has recorded the lowest accident figures over the last decade due to increased infrastructure developments and technological advancements.

Reason for rail accidents in India

  • Derailments-technical faults in the rolling stock, the rails, or the security systems, or because of landslides, avalanches, or objects obstructing the rails.
  • Failure of railway staff- Carelessness in working, poor maintenance work, overworked, signaling errors by loco-pilots, adoption of short-cuts, and non-observance of laid down safety rules and procedures.
  • Under-investment- Lack of adequate investment in the railways infrastructure and maintenance. There were three high-level committees constituted on the Railways constituted recently-
    • Sam Pitroda Committee on Modernization of Railways.
    • Anil Kakodkar Committee on Railway Safety review.
    • Bibek Debroy Committee on Restructuring of Railways.
      • All of those reports are lying dormant and recommendations un-implemented.
  • Unmanned level crossings (UMLCs)- These are responsible for a number of accidents.
  • Collisions- Due to foggy weather, low signal visibility, poor signaling, etc.
  • Congestion- Coaches filled beyond capacity are also a hazard as an overloaded vehicle is severely susceptible to toppling over.
    • The slow expansion of rail networks has put an undue burden on the existing infrastructure, leading to severe congestion and safety compromises.
    • Some coaches have been made at the Integral Coach Factory (ICF) and are infamous for piling up on collision.
    • Stainless steel Linke Hoffman Busch (LHB) coaches are more efficient at shock absorption and can reduce incidents of derailment
  • Rail fractures- Rail fractures are caused by extreme weather that causes tension on railway tracks. What makes rail fractures even more dangerous is the fact that they are not very apparent as even with ultrasonic detection. Rail fractures occurrence may increase during night time especially during winters when the temperature is low.
  • Corrosion- Corrosion is another reason that may lead to accidents. Tracks that are 1-2 year old are more prone to track accidents.
  • Lack of Funds
    • Former Railways minister says that Railways is on the verge of bankruptcy.
    • Though Indian Railways is still one of the best organizations in the world with the most talented people like E Sreedharan and several stalwarts, the organization is being systematically damaged by successive governments because of the lack of understanding of this organization’s potential and starving it of the cash.
    • The Depreciation Reserve Fund (DRF) and Development Fund are getting depleted.
    • It is estimated that we need about 25000 crore every year to replace old assets, and provision for DRF from the budget is mere 3200 crores.

Measures taken by the government

  • Automatic Block System -To provide a safeguard in train operation in Automatic Block System during foggy weather, the number of trains are restricted to two between two stations.
  • Improving the visibility of signals- Fog PASS Device, a Global Positioning System (GPS) based hand-held portable device, is used. It serves as an aid for the crew during foggy weather through the audiovisual alarm, whenever any landmark comes within the geofence range.
  • Rashtriya Rail Sanraksha Kosh (RRSK)’ had been introduced with a corpus of ₹1 lakh crore over a period of five years from 2017-18 onwards for critical safety-related works.
  • Elimination of unmanned level crossings on Broad Gauge through closure, merger, provision of subways and manning, etc.
  • Delegation of powers and easing of procedures, improving safety awareness amongst railway employees, and better training facilities like imparting simulator-based training for improving the driving skills and the reaction time of Loco Pilots.
  • Ultrasonic Flaw Detection (USFD) testing of rails to detect flaws and timely removal of defective rails.
  • Mechanization of track maintenance is being carried out to reduce human errors.

Way forward

  • Indian Railways need a generational change, and the entire emphasis as railway minister should be “Safety, safety, and safety.”
  • We need not go too far to need to know what should be done but just look at the recommendations made by the several committees constituted by the government itself in the case.
  • Sam Pitroda Committee
    • The Pitroda Committee strongly recommended the “mission mode” approach for 15 focus areas with clear objectives, measurable milestones, tangible deliveries, and well-defined timelines.
    • Modernization of 19,000 km of existing tracks.
    • Strengthening of 11,250 bridges to sustain higher load at higher speed.
    • Eliminating all level crossings Implementation of automatic block signaling on major routes;
    • A centralized train monitoring system right from Rail Bhavan.
    • Stress on complete up-gradation of railway’s communication system.
    • Implementing the track occupancy and mobile train radio communication (MTRC) for seamless communication.
    • Railways should venture into captive power generation through the PPP route
  • Bibek Debroy Committee
    • Focussed on the mobilization of resources for major railway projects and restructuring of the Railway Ministry and Railway Board.
    • Bringing private sector participation
    • Need for an independent regulator.
    • To enable railways to compete effectively, they will need to reduce costs on these non-core activities that are non-remunerative in nature and instead improve the efficiency of running trains by greater resource allocation to this function. Non-core activities can be outsourced to private entities.
    • An example cited by the Committee is that of subsidization of education and medical facilities in alternative schools and hospitals respectively, including the private institutions.
  • Anil Kakodkar Committee
    • In the present situation, the three vital functions (rule-making, operations, and regulation) are all vested in the Railway Board. There is a need for an independent mechanism for safety regulation.
    • The Committee recommends the creation of a statutory Railway Safety Authority with enough powers to have a safety oversight on the operational mode of Railways.
    • The Research Design and Standards Organization (RDSO), the apex technical wing of the Railways, is highly constrained. This has hampered the ability of the system to internalize emerging technologies.
    • The Committee recommends restructuring RDSO for greater empowerment. It also recommends that a Railway Research and Development Council (RRDC) be set up directly under the government.


  • Train accidents cause loss of life and property as well as are detrimental for the economy. Preventing their occurrence will ensure not just the safety of lives but will also be beneficial for the economy as a whole.
  • Indian railways need to be benchmarked to Japanese Railways System Shinkansen which since 1964 has been carrying millions of passengers with zero fatality.
  • For all this to be done, the government needs a massive investment programme apart from relying on revenue from the railway’s internal generation. This investment will not only save precious lives but will also give handsome dividends to the GDP. It’s time we change the definition of the railways from a “commercial organization” to a “basic infrastructure provider”.

Mains model Question

  • Suggest innovative measures how Indian Railways could raise resources for modernization.