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Accidents rate at a three year high for high speed-gripped Indian Railways

Indian Railways is gearing up for rolling out high speed passenger services even as it seems set to record its worst performance in three years on accidents. Fresh data on safety shows total number of accidents per million train kilometers has averaged 0.14 in the current financial year so far — higher than the numbers recorded in each of the last three years.

The ratio of number of accidents that occurred to every million kilometer covered by trains has declined consistently from 0.29 in 2004-05 to 0.10 in 2013-14. However, according to railways’ latest efficiency parameter report, the ratio stood at 0.14 between April and September 2014. If maintained at the current level, the current fiscal would mark the first annual rise in the ratio in the past decade.

The ratio may go up even without a dramatic worsening of performance on safety — for instance, when number of accidents remains static but total train kilometers comes down. That, however, does not seem to be the case. According to another report put out by railways, there were a total of 80 cases of accidents in the April-September 2014, a 43% jump over 56 accidents recorded in the same period last year.

The 80 cases of accidents in the current year include 40 cases of derailments, 34 cases of level crossing accidents, three collisions and two cases of fire in coaches. The 56 accidents that occurred in the same period last year included 26 derailments, 25 level crossing accidents, two collisions and three cases of fire. A senior rail ministry official defended railways’ performance. “There may have been more accidents this year but the number of deaths has come down,” he said.

The rail ministry recently informed Parliament total number of deaths in train accidents came down from 115 in 2011-12 to 80 in 2012-13 and further to 54 last financial year. However, 63 persons lost their lives in train accidents between April and June 2014. The official said safety is accorded top priority in Indian railways and multiple steps have been taken to curb accidents and loss of lives over years.

The Railways has deployed Anti-Collision Devices (ACDs) in Northeast Frontier Railway, one of the 16 railway zones, while works have been awarded for their rollout in other zones. Also, pilot projects are being implemented to install Train Protection Warning Systems (TPWS) and Train Collision Avoidance Systems (TCAS). While assuming charge last month, new Rail minister Suresh Prabhu had promised safety and customer satisfaction as two priority areas.

The task for Prabhu may be tough owing to inadequate appropriation to Depreciation Reserve Fund (DRF), used to fund replace old and ageing assets, by railways over the years. Railways appropriated Rs 6,700 crore in DRF last fiscal, 13% less than the budgeted target. In the previous year (2012-13) too, railways’ appropriation to DRF at Rs 7,050 crore was 28% less than the budgeted Rs 9,710 crore, appoint highlighted by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) in its scathing report on railway finances laid in Parliament last month.

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