The day the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, and his Japanese counterpart, Shinto Abe,laid the foundation for the ambitious Rs-1,10,000-crore bullet train in Ahmedabad, the Jammu Tawi-New Delhi Rajdhani Express jumped the tracks at New Delhi station. This is the ninth derailment in 27 days, a consequence of growing traffic, falling safety standards and underinvestment.
The largest rail passenger system in the world carrying 23 million passengers every day, the Indian Railways was hit by 78 derailments in 2016-17 alone with 193 people dead, the most in 10 years.
Though accidents in general have fallen over 10 years, from 194 in 2007-08 to 104 in 2016-17, derailments have risen over this period, an indication that trains are increasingly at peril.
The first six months of 2017 reported 29 train accidents, of which 20 were due to derailments, killing 39 people and injuring 54, according to a reply in the Lok Sabha, on July 19, 2017.
Over the last decade to 2016-17, 1,394 accidents have been reported in India; of which 51% or 708 were due to derailments in which 458 people were killed.
‘Accidents per million train kilometres, an internationally accepted yardstick of safety, has declined from 0.23 in 2006-07 to 0.11 in 2014-15, 0.10 (approximately) in 2015-16 and further declined to 0.09 (approximately) in 2016-17,’ the former Railway Minister, Suresh Prabhu, had informed the Rajya Sabha.
Derailment was the second-leading reason for accidents and casualties between 2003-04 and 2015-16. The leading reasons for accidents was human error. One of the causes is the lag in addressing what are technically called ‘defects in the track or rolling stock’.