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Here?s what makes travelling by train unsafe in India

Sentinel Digital DeskBy : Sentinel Digital Desk

  |  4 April 2017 12:00 AM GMT

NEW DELHI, April 3: Each of the three major derailments over the last four months — resulting 190 deaths and 307 injuries — occurred on over-utilised sections of the Indian Railways. These stretches were used to run trains beyond their line capacity. As much as 40 per cent of Railways’ 1,219 line sections are utilised beyond 100 per cent, according to a February 2015 white paper. Technically, a section using more than 90 per cent of its capacity is considered saturated.
The congestion rate is even higher: It is 65 per cent on 247 high-density line sections of the rail network. “The optimal utilisation should be about 80 per cent,” said Mukut Mithi, member, Standing Committee on Railways, and a Rajya Sabha member.
Track failures and subsequent derailments are caused by twin factors — excessive traffic and under-investment in rail infrastructure — an IndiaSpend alysis of available data shows.
Consider this: There has been a 56 per cent increase in the daily tally of passenger trains over 15 years — from 8,520 in 2000-01 to 13,313 in 2015-16. The number of freight trains increased by 59 per cent in the same period. But the running track length for all these trains increased by only 12 per cent in 15 years — from 81,865 km to 92,081 km.
“Fatigue of railway tracks”, not explosives, is also the reason given by Gopal Gupta, Director General, Railways, Uttar Pradesh Police, to explain the derailment of 14 coaches of the Indore-Pat Express near Kanpur.
Most of India’s high-traffic rail routes lie in the Gangetic plains, according to “Some insights on the recent spate of accidents in Indian Railways”, a 2012 paper on traffic flow along express train routes in the jourl ‘Physica A’. Of the 11 major accidents due to derailment or collision in 2010, eight occurred in this region, the paper said.
The Delhi-Tundla-Kanpur segment has been identified as the most risk-prone express train trunk route. Of the three recent mishaps cited above, one occurred on this segment.
Rail traffic, especially in the Gangetic plains, is so excessive that “if all trains were to travel in accordance with their schedule, then the present infrastructure would not be able to handle the resultant traffic-flow”, the paper added.
Indian Railways authorities mage this situation “by making trains wait at sigls”, explained the paper. This practice results in “frequent delays” and also “increases the possibility of collisions in the event of human errors such as failure of the driver to react to sigls”.
The congestion on tracks grows every year with the announcement of new trains and no parallel promise of track expansion. Every new train — “typically announced during the rail budget in response to demands of the people”, said Mithi — accentuates congestion on the network.
Fince minister Arun Jaitley this year, for instance, announced new dedicated trains to pilgrimage and tourist centres. The result is that over the last 15 years, passenger kilometres, a representation of both the number of passengers and the distance they travelled, increased by 150 per cent. And net tonne kilometres, a measure of freight hauled and the distance it has been transported, doubled.
Congestion reduces headway, or the interval between two consecutive trains running on the same route, thus increasing the chances of collisions on very busy stretches. This also eats into the time available for maintence.
“We found a correlation between the low headway during the busiest time of the day and collision accidents,” said Niloy Ganguly, co-author of the ‘Physica A’ paper and professor, Department of Computer Science & Engineering, Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur. (Agencies)

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