This week, two back-to-back rail fire incidents were reported in Bihar-bound trains that were packed with passengers ahead of Chhath Puja. While there were no casualties reported, the focus has shifted again to safety on the railways.
The official numbers analysed by News18 show that in the first half of the current financial year, there have been more collisions and fire incidents than in the same period last year while there has been a drop in derailments.
Train accidents can be broadly divided into consequential and non-consequential. Collisions, fire, derailment and accidents at the level crossing are considered consequential, with serious repercussions in terms of loss of human life or injury, damage to railway property or interruption to rail traffic at the laid-down threshold levels and values. This year, so far, no accident at level crossing has been reported. However, last year and before that, one accident each was reported.
The Railways Ministry data up to September shows that this year, five fire incidents have been reported — more than double the two such cases reported in the first half of 2022-23. Similarly, against the three collisions reported last year in the first two quarters, this year four such cases have been reported. Overall, there were 20 consequential train accidents this year between April and September against 18 recorded last year.
The year 2020-21 saw a drastic drop in consequential accidents as only special trains were operational amid a nationwide lockdown due to coronavirus. Even as the number of consequential accidents are yet to surpass the pre-Covid-19 figures, there has been a consistent rise in such incidents since 2020-21 when 21 accidents were reported. In the next two years — 2021-22 (34) and 2022-23 (48) — on an average at least three consequential accidents were reported per month.
Failure of signal, overhead equipment also on rise
Even as the last few year’s numbers suggested that the incidents of signal failure and overhead equipment (OHE) have been decreasing, this year, there has been a rise compared to the previous year.
In the first two quarters of this financial year, as many as 34,417 incidents of signal failure were reported while last year this number was 29,023 for the same period. During the April-June period, 16,458 incidents of signal failure were reported, up from 15,129 cases registered during the same period last year.
Similarly, from last year’s 1,028 OHE failure incidents, this year there have been 1,049 incidents in the first six months of the financial year. In the April-June period, 636 incidents of overhead equipment failures were reported, up from 590 during the same period last year.
Speaking to News18, a ministry official said each and every passenger is important and that they are prioritising safety. They also said that the scale of these numbers did not signify anything when compared to the overall functioning of railways.
“All machines are prone to failures, so are ours. Every day, thousands of trains are running, and so the incidents of equipment failures are also high,” the official said, seeking anonymity.