Railway Reforms

Enhancing Rail Safety and Speed: A Critical Imperative for India


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Major breakthroughs is Indian Railways

Mains level: Railways accidents and Safety and Congestion challenges

Rail Safety

Central Idea

  • The recent tragic collision in Balasore, Odisha, resulting in a substantial loss of lives and injuries, highlights the urgent need for improving rail safety in India. To compete with advancements in air and road transport, India must invest in expanding and modernizing its rail network.

Safety Concerns in India’s Railway System

  • Train Accidents: India has witnessed train accidents, including derailments and collisions, which pose a significant safety risk. These accidents can result from various factors such as track defects, signalling failures, human error, and equipment malfunction.
  • Overcrowding: Overcrowded trains, especially during peak travel times, raise safety concerns. Passengers boarding overcrowded coaches may face difficulties in movement, increasing the risk of falls, accidents, and potential stampedes in emergency situations.
  • Level Crossings: Unmanned level crossings and inadequate safety measures at crossings pose a significant safety challenge. Accidents occur when vehicles or pedestrians cross railway tracks without proper warning systems, leading to collisions with trains.
  • Inadequate Safety Infrastructure: The absence of modern safety infrastructure, such as advanced signalling systems, Automatic Train Protection (ATP) systems, and train control mechanisms, can compromise safety standards. Outdated equipment and infrastructure increase the risk of accidents.
  • Maintenance and Inspections: Insufficient maintenance practices and inadequate inspection protocols can result in safety hazards. Timely inspection of tracks, bridges, signals, rolling stock, and electrical systems is crucial to identify and rectify potential risks.
  • Encroachment on Tracks: Unauthorized encroachments near railway tracks, including slums, settlements, and informal markets, pose safety risks. These encroachments increase the likelihood of accidents and hinder effective track maintenance and monitoring.
  • Human Factors: Human error, including negligence, fatigue, and inadequate training, can contribute to safety incidents. Ensuring well-rested and properly trained staff, including drivers, guards, and maintenance personnel, is essential to mitigate human-related safety risks.
  • Security Concerns: Security threats, including theft, sabotage, and acts of terrorism, pose safety risks for passengers and railway operations. Ensuring robust security measures and coordination with law enforcement agencies are crucial to maintain a safe railway environment.

International Comparison of Railway Safety

  • Developed Countries: Countries with well-developed railway systems such as Japan, China, Turkey, France, Spain, Germany, Italy, Sweden, and the United Kingdom have significantly better railway safety records compared to India. Stringent safety regulations, advanced infrastructure, modern signalling systems, and effective maintenance practices contribute to their superior safety standards.
  • Passenger Train Speeds: In developed railway systems, most passenger trains operate at much higher speeds compared to India. For instance, Japan’s Shinkansen, China’s high-speed trains, and European high-speed rail services commonly achieve speeds of 200-350 kmph, ensuring efficient and safe travel. This stands in contrast to India’s average train speeds of approximately 50 kmph.
  • Safety Performance Ranking: If a ranking of major railways based on safety performance were to be made, India would likely place slightly higher than countries such as Egypt, Mexico, Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Nigeria, and Pakistan. This suggests the need for improvement to match the safety standards of leading railway systems.
  • Infrastructure and Network Length: China, with its similar geographic size and population, provides a relevant comparison for India. China has made significant strides in expanding and modernizing its railway network. By surpassing India’s total route length and investing in infrastructure upgrades, China has been able to enhance safety and accommodate growing passenger and freight demands effectively.
  • Technological Advancements: Developed countries have embraced advanced technologies and innovations to enhance railway safety. These include state-of-the-art signaling systems, automated train control mechanisms, and advanced maintenance practices. India can draw lessons from their successful adoption of these technologies to improve safety standards.

Rail Safety

Facts for prelims

Mission Raftaar

  • Mission Raftar is a strategic plan announced by the Indian Railway Board in 2017-18 with the objective of significantly increasing the speed of both freight and passenger trains in India.
  • The plan aimed to double the average speed of freight trains from 25 kmph to 50 kmph and achieve a 50 percent increase in passenger train speeds from 50 kmph to 75 kmph within a span of five years

Rail Safety

Lessons from China’s Success

  • Phased Development: China’s phased approach to railway development, focusing on speed enhancements on existing lines, allows for a smooth transition towards faster rail travel. India can learn from this approach and prioritize upgrades on existing routes before venturing into new high-speed projects.
  • Dedicated Passenger Lines: China’s emphasis on dedicated passenger lines played a crucial role in achieving optimal speed and efficiency. India should prioritize the development of dedicated passenger lines, especially on major trunk routes, to enhance safety and improve service quality.
  • Expansion of Route Length: China’s ambitious expansion of its rail network demonstrates the importance of extending routes and connecting major cities and regions. India can benefit from infrastructure expansion to accommodate growing demands, reduce congestion, and improve connectivity.
  • Technological Advancements: China’s investment in advanced technologies, such as signaling systems, train control, and maintenance practices, significantly improved its railway system. India can learn from this and prioritize technological innovation to enhance safety, efficiency, and maintenance protocols.
  • Balancing Cost and Affordability: While China’s high-speed rail network is impressive, India must find a balance between cost and affordability. Investing in 200-250 kmph high-speed lines on the existing broad-gauge network offers a cost-effective solution that leverages India’s terrain and existing infrastructure.
  • Public-Private Partnerships and International Collaboration: China’s railway success was built on strong collaborations and partnerships. India can learn from this approach by fostering public-private partnerships and collaborating with countries known for their advanced railway systems. This enables knowledge transfer, technology sharing, and financial support.


  • For India to transform its railways into a lifeline of transportation, urgent attention must be given to enhancing rail safety and speed. Drawing inspiration from successful models like China, India should invest in modernizing its infrastructure and building high-speed lines on the existing network. By doing so, India can overcome safety concerns, compete with other modes of transport, and ensure a brighter future for rail travel.

Also read:

Safety Concerns in Indian Railways: Addressing the Lingering Threat

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