The Best and Worst of the Indian Railways
The Indian railway system is one of the world’s largest railway networks comprising 115,000 km (71,000 mi) of track over a route of 65,000 km (40,000 mi) and 7,500 stations. In 2011, Indian Railways carried over 8,900 million passengers annually or more than 24 million passengers daily (roughly half of which were suburban passengers) and 2.8 million tons of freight daily. In 2011–2012 Indian Railways had revenues of 1119848.9 million (US$19 billion), which consists of 696759.7 million (US$12 billion) from freight and 286455.2 million (US$4.8 billion) from passengers tickets.
Railways were first introduced to India in 1853 from Bombay to Thane. In 1951 the systems were nationalized as one unit, the Indian Railways, becoming one of the largest networks in the world. Indian Railways operates both long distance and suburban rail systems. It also owns locomotive and coach production facilities at several places in India and are assigned codes identifying their gauge, kind of power and type of operation. Its operations cover twenty-eight states and seven union territories and also provide limited international services to Nepal, Bangladesh and Pakistan.
Indian Railways is the world’s ninth largest commercial or utility employer, by number of employees, with over 1.4 million employees. As for rolling stock, IR holds over 239,281 Freight Wagons, 59,713 Passenger Coaches and 9,549 Locomotives (43 steam, 5,197 diesel and 4,309 electric locomotives). The trains have a 5 digit numbering system as the Indian Railways runs about 10,000 trains daily. As of 31 March 2013, 23,541 km (14,628 mi) (36%) of the total 65,000 km (40,000 mi) route length was electrified.
Here is a brief synopsis of some recent railway accidents. What is a major cause for concern is that according to many analysts most accidents are blamed on poor maintenance and human error. Most causes could be fixed relatively easily if there was focused attention on the matter.
The Mumbai-Dehradun train mishap is one of the most recent, in the series of train accidents in the country. At least 7 train accidents, major and minor, have occurred at various places in India in last one year. India’s worst rail accident was in 1981 when a train fell into a river in Bihar, killing at least 800 people. Here is a look at the major railway mishaps in 2013. The worst accident in 2013 happened in Anantapur in Andhra Pradesh on December 28. More than two dozen passengers were charred to death in a major fire accident in Nanded-Bangalore express train near Kothacheru railway station in Anantapur district. The fire occurred in D1 air-conditioned compartment. DNA experts said that lack of enough oxygen and carbon monoxide could be the reason for passengers falling unconscious. There could be two reasons for the accident; said experts- one is short circuit and the other presence of inflammable material. On December 17, eight coaches of Gondia Dongargarh Memu local (68712) caught fire while standing at the R T siding at Dongargarh. The accident claimed no lives. On November 15, at least five people were killed and nearly 50 injured when eight coaches of a superfast train, Hazrat Nizamuddin-Ernakulam Mangala Express, derailed near Ghoti. On February 22, the same train had derailed while entering Pen railway station on the Panvel-Roha section. On October 17, passengers of the Danapur-Kamakhya Capital Express had a providential escape when 12 of its coaches derailed. Railways said that that fault in the tracks or major technical snag must have caused the accident, which is rare. On October 15, a major fire broke out in a pantry car of the Dibrugarh-New Delhi Rajdhani Express near Dharamtul Railway Station in Morigaon district. No one was injured in the fire, although 15 workers in the pantry car jumped to safety when the train stopped immediately after the incident. On April 11, one passenger was killed and 33 others, including six women and two children, were injured when 12 bogies of Muzaffarpur-Yesvantpur Express (no.15228) derailed.
At least 19 people were killed and more than 100 others injured when a passenger train derailed in the western Indian state of Maharashtra, according to reports. The engine and four coaches of Diva-Sawantwadi passenger train jumped the tracks near Roha station, 110km south of the financial hub of Mumbai, said police officer Ankush Shinde on Sunday. According to the Associated Press news agency, the rescuers used gas cutters to open the derailed coaches to reach those trapped inside. Most accidents are blamed on poor maintenance and human error.
Train Accidents not the only “Culprit”
It is not just accidents that have made a trip on the Indian railways a fatal journey for some passengers. Unfortunately the railway passage becomes a death trap for some even when there is no train accident.
As many as 420 women were killed in railway accidents in Mumbai last year. According to statistics provided by the Mumbai railway police, According to the railway police, most of the women were killed after falling from moving trains. A total of 3,506 people were killed in railway accidents in Mumbai last year. This means that out of the total number of deaths, nearly 12% women were killed in railway accidents. Railway authorities should increase the number of compartments for women or run more ladies special during morning and evening peak hours for the benefit of working women. Limited ladies’ compartments in the suburban railway network are the prime reason for the rising number of deaths of women passengers.
Unmanned railway crossings continue to take a heavy toll of human lives with 194 people killed in the last three years. According to latest figures, 48 people were killed in mishaps at unmanned crossings during 2012-13, while 115 people were killed in 2011-12 and 31 in 2010-11. While the number of accidents at unmanned railway gates continues, the cash-strapped national transporter is yet to put its act together to eliminate these death traps numbering about 12,582 across the country. A high-level safety review committee appointed by railways in 2012 had found that almost 15,000 people were killed every year while crossing rail tracks, and had described it as an annual “massacre” due to poor safety standards.
Not All Hope Lost
Not all news is negative and this biggest railway system in the world is taking strides to a brighter future
The Indian Railways’ online ticketing system has reached a record number of ticket bookings during peak hours with help from open source platforms. Centre for Railway Information Systems (CRIS) – the Railways’ IT arm – was awarded for this project in the Infrastructure category at the Red Hat Innovation Awards last month. CRIS runs its own journey planning application that is integrated with the online ticketing system managed by the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC). The current system serves nearly 2 million passengers a day on over 2500 trains nationwide. With increasing site traffic, data processing challenges, such as a slow booking system during peak times, were expected. The ticketing system, along with enhancements to CRIS’ application, has now reduced transaction response time and processed a record high of more than 65,000 tickets during peak hours.
The crowds, the chaos and the cows on the platform may soon be history. India’s railways are to be given their most radical overhaul since the end of the British Raj with the introduction of high-speed trains on key lines – if an ambitious plan can be turned into reality. A bill is to be introduced in parliament to allow funding, studies are under way and six proposed “high-speed rail corridors” have been identified. Instead of clunking in grimy, packed trains delayed by fog or breakdowns, Indians and tourists can expect a rather different experience. Japanese consultants have been in Delhi, India’s capital, demonstrating the bullet train, which travels at up to 200mph. “We are planning for the future. The pace of growth of the economy means high-speed trains will be a requirement. Not immediately perhaps but certainly in a few years,” said Indian Railways’ spokesman, Anil Saxena.
The largest railway system in the world may someday also be the best.[Image Attribute: PDPics]