Railway Reforms

Enhancing Railway Safety: Embracing a New Paradigm


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Railway infrastructure development updates

Mains level: Railway derailments and safety issues


Central Idea

  • Nothing captures the nation’s attention quite like a major accident within the Indian Railways. The recent triple train collision at Bahanaga Bazar railway station in Odisha has resulted in significant loss of lives, triggering the expected reactions and responses from different quarters. As the clamor for resignations and critical analysis of the railways’ future direction unfolds, it is crucial to objectively assess the situation and take meaningful steps to prevent such accidents in the future

Objective assessment: Understanding the Safety Performance

  • Decline in Derailments: Statistics reveal a significant decline in derailments, which constitute the majority of accidents in the Indian Railways. The number of derailments has decreased from around 350 per year in the early 2000s to 22 in 2021-22. This remarkable achievement demonstrates an improvement in safety standards.
  • Accommodating Increased Traffic: The decline in derailments is even more impressive considering the substantial increase in both freight loading and passenger traffic. Despite a nearly threefold increase in freight loading and more than a doubling of passenger traffic, the overall safety performance of the Railways has shown improvement over the years
  • Vulnerability to Single Major Accidents: While the decline in accidents is noteworthy, the nature of safety performance in the railway industry is such that a single major accident can overshadow the positive track record. Even with improved safety measures, one significant incident can tarnish the overall perception of safety.


The multiplicity of inquiries in the aftermath of the Bahanaga Bazar accident

  • Railway Minister’s Visit: In the aftermath of the triple train collision at Bahanaga Bazar railway station, the railway minister visited the accident site, which is a rare occurrence. This visit showcased a proactive approach by the Minister in overseeing relief and restoration work.
  • Prime Minister’s Visit: Remarkably, the Prime Minister himself visited the accident site, marking a historical first for the Indian Railways. His presence demonstrated the gravity of the situation and the government’s commitment to addressing the incident.
  • Determination of Cause: The Prime Minister’s statement, made during his visit, that “instructions have been given to ensure proper and speedy investigation of tragedy and to take prompt and stringent action against those found guilty,” indicated a preconceived notion that the accident was caused by human agency. This assumption was made before the statutory inquiry by the Commissioner of Railway Safety began.
  • Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) Inquiry: Unprecedentedly, the inquiry into the accident was handed over to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). The reason for this decision is not immediately apparent unless there is suspicion of criminal intent behind the accident.
  • Preliminary Enquiry: Prior to the commencement of the statutory inquiry by the Commissioner of Railway Safety, a committee of senior supervisors conducted a “preliminary enquiry.” This step, conducted before the formal inquiry, is somewhat unusual and raises questions about the sequence and coordination of investigations.

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.

Implementing Confidential Incident Reporting and Analysis System (CIRAS)

  • Study and Adaptation: The Indian Railways would need to study the CIRAS system implemented on British Railways and understand its core principles, functioning, and effectiveness. This analysis would serve as the basis for adapting the system to suit the specific requirements and operational dynamics of the Indian Railways.
  • Infrastructure Setup: The implementation of CIRAS would require establishing the necessary infrastructure. This includes developing a secure and confidential reporting platform accessible to railway staff at all levels. The platform can be a web-based portal or a dedicated mobile application, designed to ensure anonymity and maintain the confidentiality of the reporters.
  • Training and Awareness: To ensure the successful implementation of CIRAS, comprehensive training programs should be conducted for all railway staff. This training would familiarize them with the reporting system, emphasize the importance of reporting deviations or unsafe practices, and assure them of confidentiality and protection against retaliation.
  • Reporting Procedures: Clear reporting procedures and guidelines should be established to facilitate the reporting process. These guidelines would outline what incidents or deviations should be reported, how to submit reports through the CIRAS system, and the expected timelines for reporting and response.
  • Analysis and Action: A dedicated team or department within the Railways should be responsible for analyzing the reported incidents or deviations. They would assess the severity, identify patterns or trends, and propose appropriate actions to rectify the issues and enhance safety.

Way Ahead: Sustaining Safety Efforts in the Indian Railways

  • Strengthening Safety Culture: Building a safety-oriented culture throughout the organization is crucial. This involves instilling a shared commitment to safety at all levels, from the highest management to the frontline staff. Safety should be prioritized as a core value, and efforts should be made to promote transparency, open communication, and proactive reporting of safety concerns.
  • Embracing Technology: Leveraging advanced technologies can significantly contribute to enhancing safety in railway operations. The adoption of modern signaling systems, automated train control systems, predictive maintenance techniques, and real-time monitoring tools can help identify potential safety risks and mitigate them proactively.
  • Regular Audits and Inspections: Periodic audits and inspections should be conducted to assess compliance with safety standards and identify areas for improvement. These audits should involve external experts to ensure impartiality and comprehensive evaluations. Any shortcomings or deviations from safety protocols should be addressed promptly and effectively.
  • Collaboration and Knowledge Sharing: Collaborating with international railway systems and experts can provide valuable insights into best practices and lessons learned. Establishing partnerships and knowledge-sharing platforms with global railway organizations can help the Indian Railways stay updated with the latest safety advancements and innovations.
  • Robust Reporting and Analysis: Establishing a robust reporting and analysis system, such as the Confidential Incident Reporting and Analysis System (CIRAS), mentioned earlier, can encourage frontline staff to report safety concerns without fear of reprisal. Analyzing incident data and near-miss occurrences can help identify trends, root causes, and systemic issues.
  • Continuous Monitoring and Evaluation: Safety performance should be continuously monitored and evaluated to track progress and identify areas that require further attention. Implementing key performance indicators (KPIs) and safety metrics can provide objective measures of the railway’s safety performance.
  • Stakeholder Engagement: Engaging stakeholders, including passengers, employees, unions, and local communities, is essential for creating a safety-conscious environment. Encouraging feedback, conducting safety awareness campaigns, and involving stakeholders in safety initiatives can foster a sense of ownership and collective responsibility for safety.


  • Enhancing railway safety requires a shift in perspective and the implementation of robust reporting systems. It is imperative to prioritize a culture of safety, embracing proactive measures to prevent accidents. Sustaining safety improvements demands continuous dedication and a willingness to adapt. By reassessing existing practices and ensuring undivided attention from policymakers, the Indian Railways can achieve a safer and more efficient future.

Also read:

Moving Beyond Vande Bharat: Performance of Indian Railways


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