Railway Reforms

Safety Concerns in Indian Railways: Addressing the Lingering Threat


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Major breakthroughs is Indian Railways

Mains level: Indian Railways, recent accidents, Safety concerns


Central Idea

  • A glance at historical data on railway accidents may create the impression that such incidents are a relic of the past. The Indian Railways has made significant progress, with the average number of accidents plummeting from 1,390 per year in the 1960s to 80 per year in the last decade. However, the recent triple-train collision in Odisha’s Balasore, one of India’s deadliest, has ignited concerns about safety in rail travel.

Train Accidents: An Overview

  • Derailments: Derailments constitute the majority of train accidents, accounting for approximately 70% of incidents since 1990-91. They occur when a train’s wheels leave the tracks, often due to factors such as track defects, rail fractures, rolling stock defects, or even excessive speed.
  • Level Crossing Accidents: Accidents at level crossings occur when a train collides with a vehicle or pedestrian at an intersection. These accidents are often attributed to negligence, inadequate warning systems, or disregard for safety precautions by road users.
  • Collisions: Train collisions involve two or more trains crashing into each other. They can occur due to signal failures, human errors, or miscommunication between railway staff. Collisions pose a significant risk to passengers’ safety and can result in severe injuries or fatalities.
  • Fires in Trains: Fires breaking out in trains can have devastating consequences. They can be caused by electrical faults, mechanical failures, or even deliberate acts. Quick response and effective fire suppression systems are crucial to minimizing the damage and ensuring passenger safety.

The causes and responsibilities associated with train accidents

  • Negligence or Failure of Railway Staff: Approximately 55% of consequential train accidents are attributed to negligence or failure on the part of railway staff. This includes errors in signaling, improper maintenance of tracks or rolling stock, inadequate training, or lapses in following safety protocols.
  • Factors outside Railway Staff’s Control: Around 28% of train accidents occur due to factors beyond the control of railway staff. These may include incidents caused by external elements such as unauthorized crossing of tracks by pedestrians or vehicles, sabotage, natural disasters, or acts of terrorism.
  • Equipment Failure: Approximately 6% of train accidents result from equipment failure, including signaling system malfunctions, rolling stock defects, or failures in infrastructure components.
  • Shared Responsibility: It’s important to acknowledge that ensuring safety in rail travel is a shared responsibility involving both the railway administration and passengers. Passengers must adhere to safety guidelines, avoid trespassing, and report any suspicious activities.

Trends and distribution of safety expenditure

  • Record Allocation in Union Budget: The Indian Railways received a significant allocation of ₹2.40 lakh crore in the 2023-24 Union Budget. This record funding demonstrates the recognition of the importance of safety within the railway system.
  • Capital Expenditure Share: When considering capital expenditure for crucial safety activities like track renewal, signaling, and telecom, the allocation shares have either dwindled or remained stagnant in recent years.
  • Track Renewal: Allocation for track renewal has seen a decline, with the percentage dropping to 7.2% in FY24. This indicates a potential gap in prioritizing the maintenance and renewal of tracks, which are essential for safe train operations.
  • Signalling Expenditure: Expenditure proposed for signaling has remained at a low 1.7% when considered as a share of budgetary support for capital expenditure. Adequate investment in signaling systems is vital for ensuring safe and efficient train operations.
  • Rashtriya Rail Sanraksha Kosh (RRSK): The RRSK fund, established with a corpus of ₹1 lakh crore, aims to provide financial support for critical safety-related works and accident prevention. However, a parliamentary standing committee report in March 2023 highlighted that appropriations to the RRSK have consistently fallen short since its introduction.
  • Earmarked Allocation Targets: The Railways has struggled to meet the earmarked allocation targets for safety-related works in the past five years. This indicates the need for better adherence to allocation plans and ensuring that designated funds are effectively utilized for safety measures.

Challenges in meeting the target for track renewal

  • Annual Track Renewal Target: According to a white paper by the Ministry of Railways, approximately 4,500 km of track should be renewed annually to ensure the safety and efficiency of train operations. This target is based on the need to address track defects, rail fractures, and other issues that can lead to derailments or accidents.
  • Target Achievement: Data indicates that the Indian Railways has struggled to achieve the desired track renewal targets in recent years. With the exception of one year, the Railways has consistently fallen short of the annual renewal target set by the Ministry.
  • Factors Affecting Track Renewal: Several factors contribute to the challenges in track renewal. These include financial constraints, limited resources, logistical difficulties, and operational constraints. The vast network of the Indian Railways, spanning thousands of kilometers, presents significant challenges in efficiently renewing tracks across the entire system.
  • Budgetary Allocation: The allocation of financial resources for track renewal plays a crucial role in meeting the targets. However, the share of the budget allocated to track renewal has seen a decline in recent years, reaching 7.2% in FY24. Insufficient budgetary support can hinder the timely and comprehensive renewal of tracks.
  • Maintenance Practices: Effective track maintenance practices are essential for identifying and addressing potential issues before they escalate into safety hazards. Regular inspections, timely repairs, and adherence to maintenance schedules are critical in ensuring the longevity and safety of tracks. Improvements in maintenance practices can contribute to more efficient track renewal efforts.

Facts for prelims

What is Kavach?

  • It is India’s very own automatic protection system in development since 2012, under the name Train Collision Avoidance System (TCAS), which got rechristened to Kavach or “armour”.
  • Simply put, it is a set of electronic devices and Radio Frequency Identification devices installed in locomotives, in the signalling system as well the tracks.
  • They connect to each other using ultra high radio frequencies to control the brakes of trains and also alert drivers, all based on the logic programmed into them.

Way forward

  • Strengthen Safety Governance: Establish a dedicated safety governance framework within the Indian Railways, ensuring clear lines of accountability and responsibility for safety-related matters. This includes setting up safety committees, conducting regular safety audits, and implementing effective safety management systems.
  • Robust Risk Assessment: Conduct comprehensive risk assessments to identify potential hazards and vulnerabilities across the railway network. This should include analyzing historical data, conducting safety studies, and utilizing advanced technologies for risk prediction and mitigation.
  • Continuous Safety Training: Provide regular and specialized safety training programs for railway staff at all levels. This includes training on emergency response procedures, safety protocols, and the use of safety equipment. Promote a safety culture that emphasizes vigilance, adherence to procedures, and continuous learning.
  • Infrastructure Upgrades: Invest in upgrading and modernizing railway infrastructure, including tracks, bridges, signaling systems, and level crossings. Implement advanced technologies such as automated signaling systems, track monitoring systems, and predictive maintenance tools to enhance safety and efficiency.
  • Technological Innovations: Embrace emerging technologies like artificial intelligence, Internet of Things (IoT), and data analytics to improve safety measures. Utilize these technologies for real-time monitoring, predictive maintenance, risk assessment, and early detection of potential safety hazards.
  • Collaboration and Partnerships: Foster collaborations with national and international organizations, research institutions, and technology providers to exchange knowledge, best practices, and innovative solutions for railway safety. Engage in public-private partnerships to leverage expertise and resources for safety improvement projects.
  • Data-Driven Decision Making: Leverage data analytics and predictive modeling to identify safety trends, make informed decisions, and allocate resources effectively. Establish a robust data management system to capture, analyze, and disseminate safety-related information for informed policymaking.
  • Regular Safety Audits: Conduct periodic safety audits to assess compliance with safety standards, identify gaps, and implement corrective measures. Involve independent safety experts to ensure impartiality and thorough evaluation.
  • Transparent Reporting: Maintain transparency in reporting safety-related incidents, accidents, and near-miss occurrences. Share safety performance data with the public, stakeholders, and regulatory authorities to foster accountability and drive continuous improvement.


  • While the Indian Railways has made remarkable progress in reducing the number of train accidents over the years, the recent Balasore tragedy has exposed critical safety concerns. Negligence, equipment failure, and insufficient track renewal contribute to the persistent risks. By addressing these challenges head-on, the Indian Railways can restore public confidence and uphold passenger safety as its foremost priority.

Also read:

India’s Railway Safety Crisis: A Grim Reality Unveiled

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