Utkal derailment: Rail traffic restored on affected section; Railways promises upgraded safety

The accident was prima facie caused by negligence at the local level, has put a spotlight on the safety on the tracks.

Published: 21st August 2017 10:17 PM  |   Last Updated: 21st August 2017 10:17 PM   |  A+A-

Scene from the Utkal Express derailment in Uttar Pradesh. | PTI

By PTI

NEW DELHI/MUMBAI: Rail traffic was restored on the Meerut-Muzaffarnagar-Saharanpur section today, two days after the Utkal train derailment, in the wake of which the Railways promised to upgrade safety features on the tracks.

"The 54542 Ambala Meerut city passenger train passed Khatauli (site of last Saturday's accidentin UP) at 1:21 AM today," the Railways said in a press release.

At least 22 people were killed and 156 injured when 13 coaches of Utkal Express derailed on Saturday evening while it was on its way from Puri in Odisha to Haridwar in Uttarakhand.

The Railways yesterday sent on leave three top officials, including a secretary-level Railway Board member, suspended four officers and transfered a track engineer, describing it as an "unprecedented" action.

Minister of State for Railways Manoj Sinha said a probe is underway to fix responsibility for the accident and unprecedented action would be taken against the guilty.

Stressing that action had already been initiated against officials, Sinha said, "Once the report comes...the action will be such that has not been seen before."

"On preliminary basis... things that have come to light... based on it I feel that the most stringent action has been taken in the history of the railways," Sinha told reporters on the sidelines of the ITU-TRAI Asia Pacific Regulators Roundtable in Delhi.

Asked whether the preliminary report had pointed to human error for the train mishap, Sinha said, "You are wrongly informed, the inquiry is going on."

Yesterday, Railway Board member (Traffic) Mohd Jamshed had said that equipment to repair tracks was found at the accident spot and that the Commissioner Railway Safety would investigate if unauthorised repair work led to the tragedy.

The major accident, which was prima facie caused by negligence at the local level, has put a spotlight on the safety on the tracks.

"We are embarking on a mission to provide upgraded safety features on coaching stock," a top official of the Railways Ministry said in Mumbai while requesting anonymity.

"It has been decided that only the Linke Hofmann Busch (LHB) coaches will be manufactured from 2018-19 as they are of a superior design that reduces the chances of derailment and mitigates the chances of grievous injury or death in case of accidents," the official said.

"It has been decided to carry out improvement in safety features in existing the Integral Coach Factory (ICF)-designed coaches which have a residual life of over 10 years. About 40,000 coaches will be provided with these features in the next five years," he said.

The ministry, under attack over the rail accidents, also came out with figures to insist that there has been a decline in the number in the last three years.

In 2014-15, the number of accidents was 135 which decreased to 107 in 2015-16 and further to 104 in 2016-17, it said in a statement.

In the current year, train accidents decreased from 29 to 15 during the April-June span in comparison to the corresponding period of 2016, an improvement of 48.3 per cent, the statement said.

"Although every human life is invaluable and (any casualty) is an irreparable loss to us, the number of casualties has also seen a declining trend. The total (number of) fatalities in the first three years of the UPA I (the United Progressive Alliance I) was 759, (and it) increased to 938 during the UPA II...

"The first three years of this government have seen the number declining to 652," it said.

Safety measures, including speedy track renewal, ultrasonic rail detection system, elimination of several unmanned level crossings on priority basis, a special safety fund, along with sophisticated the Linke Hofmann Busch (LHB) coaches with anti-climbing features, have additionally helped make train travel safer, it said.

"Accidents per million train kilometres, an important index of safety , have come down from 0.23 in 2006-2007 to 0.10 in 2015-2016 and further to 0.09 in the year 2016-2017 despite a quantum increase in the volume of traffic carried by Indian Railways over the years," said a senior railway official.

While derailments have continued to be a thorn for the railways, with 63 such cases in 2014-2015, 65 the next year and 78 in 2016-2017, the largest transporter has eliminated 4258 unmanned level crossings (UMLC) in last three years, leading to drop in fatalities from UMLC accidents from 64 per cent of total fatalities in 2013-14 to 16.81 per cent in 2016-17, the statement said.

"Investments for safety have increased from Rs 33,972 crore per year during the UPA II to Rs 54,031 crore every year under this government, a jump of 60 per cent. The average vacancy in safetypositions during the period 2009-10 to 201314 was 18.65 per cent of the total sanctioned strength. This has dropped down to 16.86 per cent in 2017 despite the sanctioned strength increasing by five per cent from 2014 to 2017," it said.

In the Railway Budget 2016-17, the government had announced 'Mission Zero Accident'. It comprises two submissions -- The elimination of unmanned level crossings (UMLC) along broad gauge tacks in the next three-four years and the Train Collision Avoidance System (TCAS).

"There are 27,181 level crossings in India of which 19,480 are manned and 7,701 are unmanned. Planning has been made to eliminate unmanned level crossings along broad gauge tracks by 2020," the official said.

The allocation of fund for track renewal has been almost doubled from the last five years average of Rs 5,548 crore to Rs 9,961 crore in the Budget Estimate of 2017-18, he said.

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