Frequent Rail Accidents in India: Causes and Mitigation | UPSC


  • India has witnessed yet another gruesome train accident. At least 15 people are dead and 60 injured in West Bengal after a goods train collided with the Sealdah-bound Kanchanjunga Express near Rangapani station.
  • This comes after two trains collided in Andhra Pradesh’s Vizianagaram in October 2023 – leaving 13 dead and 50 injured.
  • In June 2023, a three-train collision in Odisha’s Balasore left 296 dead and over 1,200 injured in what was India’s worst rail accident in over two decades.
  • There has been an average of 44 consequential train accidents every year in the five-year period ending 2022-23 (FY23). A consequential train accident, according to the Indian Railways, includes those with serious repercussions, including injuries, loss of life, rail traffic disruption and damage to railway property.
  • With population explosion and freight traffic expected to double by 2050, the dependency on railways is only going to rise further, which is why safety and security expectations are higher than ever.

Causes of frequent rail accidents in India

  • Rail accidents in India have multiple causes, often interlinked, that contribute to the high incidence of such events.

a) Aging Infrastructure

  • One significant cause is the aging infrastructure. Many railway tracks, bridges, and signaling systems have been in use for decades without substantial modernization. This outdated infrastructure can lead to track failures, signal malfunctions, and other technical issues, increasing the risk of accidents. The Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG), in its December 2022 report, said 69% of railway accidents from 2018 to 2021 were caused due to derailments.
  • Furthermore, the sheer volume of traffic on these tracks exacerbates wear and tear, making timely maintenance and upgrades critical yet challenging to execute.

b) Human Error

  • Human error also plays a significant role in rail accidents. This includes errors by railway staff, such as train drivers, signal operators, and maintenance crews. Fatigue, inadequate training, and sometimes negligence can lead to mistakes that result in collisions, derailments, or other mishaps. For instance, signal passed at danger (SPAD) incidents, where trains go through red signals, are often attributed to human error. Additionally, the pressure to maintain punctuality in a highly congested rail network can sometimes lead to risky decisions that compromise safety.

c) Staff Shortages

  • However, by the railway minister’s own admission, the railways is looking at large-scale staff shortages. According to information presented in the Rajya Sabha in January 2023, 3.12 lakh non-gazetted railway posts were vacant in the country. Among them, 14,815 vacancies were in the signal and telecommunications department and 62,264 in the traffic and transportation department.

d) Encroachment and Unauthorized Crossings

  • Another major factor is the encroachment and unauthorized crossings along railway tracks. In many areas, particularly in urban and suburban regions, people frequently use tracks as walking paths or makeshift roadways. This not only poses a severe risk to pedestrians but also increases the likelihood of accidents when trains have to make emergency stops or when they collide with obstacles on the tracks. Encroachments near rail lines also pose significant safety hazards, leading to accidents, especially during high-speed train operations.

e) Mechanical Failures

  • Mechanical failures of trains and related equipment are also common causes of accidents. Issues such as brake failures, coupling failures, and engine malfunctions can lead to serious accidents. Regular maintenance is often hampered by the high operational demands placed on the rolling stock. With a large portion of the fleet in continuous operation, the time available for thorough inspections and repairs is limited. This can result in critical failures going undetected until they cause accidents.

f) Weather Conditions

  • Weather conditions further contribute to rail accidents in India. The monsoon season, in particular, poses significant challenges. Heavy rains can lead to track washouts, landslides, and flooding, which can destabilize tracks and make them unsafe for travel. Foggy conditions in winter also reduce visibility, complicating navigation for train drivers and increasing the risk of collisions.

g) Systemic Issues

  • Lastly, systemic issues such as underfunding and bureaucratic inefficiencies impact the overall safety of the railway network. Financial constraints often limit the extent of necessary upgrades and expansions. Additionally, the bureaucratic processes involved in decision-making and the implementation of safety measures can be slow, delaying crucial improvements. This lack of adequate funding and efficient management further compounds the risks, making it difficult to maintain a safe and reliable rail system.

In conclusion, rail accidents in India result from a combination of aging infrastructure, human error, encroachment, mechanical failures, adverse weather conditions, and systemic issues. Addressing these challenges requires a comprehensive approach involving modernization of infrastructure, improved training and work conditions for railway staff, stringent enforcement of safety regulations, and better funding and management practices. Only through such multifaceted efforts can the safety of India’s rail network be significantly enhanced.

Effects of Frequent Railway Accidents in India

  • Frequent railway accidents in India have profound and far-reaching impacts on various aspects of society.

a) Loss of human life

  • One of the most immediate and tragic effects is the loss of human life. According to the National Crime Records Bureau’s 2022 report there were more than 100,000 train-related deaths in India between 2017 and 2021. In 2021, more than 16,000 people were killed in nearly 18,000 railway accidents in India.
  • The psychological trauma experienced by survivors, witnesses, and the families of victims can have long-lasting effects, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, and depression. Additionally, the loss of primary breadwinners can plunge families into financial hardship, exacerbating poverty and reducing the quality of life for those left behind.

b) Economic Costs

  • From an economic perspective, frequent railway accidents impose a substantial financial burden on the country. The costs associated with emergency response, medical care for the injured, compensation to victims’ families, and repairs to damaged infrastructure are immense. These expenses can strain government resources and divert funds from other crucial areas such as education, healthcare, and development projects.
      • Moreover, frequent accidents can lead to a decline in passenger confidence in the railway system, resulting in reduced ridership and revenue. This decline can further hinder the financial sustainability of the railways, creating a vicious cycle of underinvestment and increased risk of future accidents.

c) Impact on the transportation network

  • The broader impact on the transportation network is also significant. Railway accidents can cause severe disruptions to the movement of goods and people, affecting both domestic and international trade. Delays and cancellations of trains lead to logistical challenges, increased transportation costs, and economic inefficiencies.
  • For businesses relying on timely delivery of goods, these disruptions can result in lost sales, contractual penalties, and damaged reputations. The cumulative effect on the economy can be substantial, particularly in a country where railways play a critical role in the overall transportation infrastructure.

d) Social-political effects

  • In the social and political realm, frequent railway accidents often spark public outrage and erode trust in the authorities responsible for ensuring safety and efficient transportation. This erosion of trust can lead to increased demands for accountability, transparency, and reforms within the railway system. Political repercussions may include intense scrutiny of government officials, policy changes, and increased pressure on railway authorities to enhance safety measures and modernize infrastructure.
  • In some cases, these pressures can result in positive changes, such as improved safety standards, better training for railway staff, and the implementation of advanced technologies for monitoring and managing railway operations.

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Initiative undertaken by the Govt. to check Railway Accidents

  • The Indian government has implemented various initiatives to address safety concerns in the Indian railway network, focusing on enhancing infrastructure, implementing advanced technologies, and ensuring rigorous safety protocols.

a) Rashtriya Rail Sanraksha Kosh (RRSK)

  • One of the key initiatives was the implementation of the Rashtriya Rail Sanraksha Kosh (RRSK). RRSK was created in 2017-18 for execution of assessed safety works with a corpus of 1 lakh crore over a period of 5 years. This fund financed critical safety-related works, including track renewal, bridge rehabilitation, and the replacement of old coaches with modern Linke Hofmann Busch (LHB) coaches that are designed to be safer and more comfortable.

b) Improvement of rail infrastructure

  • To improve rail infrastructure, the Indian Railways has been focusing on track renewal and upgradation. This involves replacing old and worn-out tracks, upgrading signaling systems, and installing advanced track management systems. The Track Management System (TMS) helps in monitoring the condition of tracks in real-time, thereby reducing the risk of derailments. Additionally, modern signaling systems such as the Train Protection and Warning System (TPWS) and the Centralized Traffic Control (CTC) are being deployed to enhance operational safety and efficiency.

c) Introduction of anti-collision devices (ACDs)

  • Another significant initiative is the introduction of anti-collision devices (ACDs) and the automatic train protection (ATP) system. These technologies are designed to prevent train collisions by automatically applying brakes when a potential collision is detected. The Indian Railways is also working on the implementation of the Kavach system, an indigenous ATP system that aims to enhance safety by providing real-time monitoring and control over train operations.

KAVACH: Indigenously-Developed Anti-Collision Technology for Indian Railways

•       The KAVACH is indigenously developed by Research Design and Standards Organisation (RDSO) in collaboration with Indian industry to achieve the objective of safety in train operations across Indian Railways.

  • KAVACH is meant to provide protection by preventing trains to pass the signal at Danger (Red) and avoid collision.
  • It activates the train braking system automatically if the driver fails to control the train as per the speed restrictions.
  • In addition, it prevents collision between two Locomotives equipped with functional KAVACH system.

•       ‘Kavach’ is one of the cheapest, Safety Integrity Level 4 (SIL-4) certified technologies with the probability of error is 1 in 10,000 years.

•       Also, it opens avenues of export of this indigenous technology for Railways.

Features of KAVACH

•       Prevention of Signal Passing at Danger (SPAD)

•       Automatic Braking for Prevention of Over Speeding

•       Prevention of collision between two Locomotives equipped with functional KAVACH

•       Auto Whistling while approaching Level Crossing Gates

•       SoS Messages during emergency situations

•       Centralized live monitoring of Train movements through Network Monitor System.

•       Continuous update of Movement Authority with display of signal aspects in Driver Machine Interface (DMI) / Loco Pilot operation cum Indication Panel (LPOCIP)

d) Human resource development and training

  • Human resource development and training are also crucial aspects of railway safety. The Indian Railways has established several training institutes to enhance the skills and knowledge of its workforce. Regular training programs on safety protocols, disaster management, and the operation of modern equipment are conducted to ensure that railway personnel are well-prepared to handle emergencies.

e) Development of dedicated freight corridors (DFCs)

  • Additionally, the government has been investing in the development of dedicated freight corridors (DFCs) to segregate passenger and freight traffic, thereby reducing congestion and minimizing the risk of accidents. The Western and Eastern DFCs are examples of such projects that aim to improve the overall efficiency and safety of the railway network.

f) Emphasis on passenger safety

  • Lastly, the Indian Railways has been emphasizing passenger safety through measures such as the installation of CCTV cameras in trains and stations, the deployment of the Railway Protection Force (RPF) for enhanced security, and the introduction of mobile apps for passengers to report safety concerns. These initiatives collectively contribute to creating a safer and more secure railway environment for passengers and staff alike.

Role of GIS in the Management of Indian Railways

•       Definition and Importance:

o    GIS (Geographic Information System) creates, manages, analyzes, and maps various types of data.

o    Connects location data with descriptive information, providing a foundation for mapping and analysis used in many industries, including railways.

•       Indian Railways’ Initiative:

o    Plans to map all railway assets and develop a dedicated GIS portal.

o    Signed MoU with ISRO to use satellite imagery and maps for asset mapping.

•       Efficiency in Planning:

o    GIS portal aids in planning enhancements such as new lines, doubling/multiple lines, and traffic facilities more efficiently.

•       Monitoring and Management:

o    Satellite images facilitate regular monitoring of tracks and spotting encroachments around stations.

o    GIS provides valuable information throughout the asset life cycle for efficient management, maximizing throughput, ensuring safety, and minimizing disruptions/delays.

•       Growing Use in Transport Industry:

o    GIS centralizes and coordinates activities vital to railway operations, making it the optimal tool for the transport industry.

•       Land and Asset Management:

o    Indian Railways, one of the largest landowners, can use GIS maps to understand asset conditions and environmental constraints.

o    Accurate GIS database assists in land management, asset mapping, maintenance, and encroachment/lease information management.

•       Real-time Operations and Safety:

o    GIS provides accurate, real-time information, helping visualize events as they happen.

o    Enhances response to incidents, coordinates across divisions, ensures safety of maintenance crews, and optimizes efficiency.

•       Disaster Management:

o    Critical in disaster management and rescue planning.

o    Helps locate accident sites, provides essential information to rescue teams, and alerts nearby hospitals, fire stations, and other trains.

o    Finds optimal routes between resource locations and disaster sites.

What should be done to address frequent railway accidents in India

  • Frequent railway accidents in India are a matter of grave concern, highlighting the urgent need for comprehensive measures to enhance railway safety. The Indian Railways, one of the world’s largest rail networks, serves millions of passengers daily and is a critical component of the country’s infrastructure. To address the recurring accidents, a multifaceted approach involving modernization, strict regulatory enforcement, advanced technology adoption, and enhanced training programs is essential.

a) Modernization of Railway Infrastructure

  • Firstly, the modernization of railway infrastructure is paramount. Many of India’s railway tracks, signaling systems, and bridges are outdated and in dire need of upgrades. Replacing old tracks, installing modern signaling systems, and ensuring robust maintenance protocols can significantly reduce the risk of accidents. Additionally, the introduction of automated systems can help in real-time monitoring and prompt detection of potential hazards, thereby preventing accidents before they occur.
  • The railways should also maintain a balance in spending money on all sections. Though modern coaches and modern stations are required, railways should also focus on safety and investment in safety-related works.

b) Strict Regulatory Enforcement

  • Secondly, strict regulatory enforcement and adherence to safety standards must be prioritized. The government and railway authorities need to ensure that all safety protocols are rigorously followed. Regular audits, inspections, and stringent penalties for non-compliance can deter negligence and promote a culture of safety. The establishment of an independent regulatory body to oversee railway safety could further enhance accountability and transparency in safety practices.

c) Adoption of Latest Technology

  • The adoption of advanced technology is another crucial step. Implementing cutting-edge technologies such as GPS-based tracking systems, collision avoidance systems, and automated warning systems can greatly enhance the safety of railway operations. These technologies can provide real-time data and predictive analytics, helping in early detection of faults and timely intervention. Moreover, the use of drones for track inspection and maintenance can expedite the identification of issues and reduce human error.

d) Training and Capacity Building

  • Training and capacity building of railway staff are also vital. Regular training programs focusing on safety protocols, emergency response, and the operation of advanced technologies should be conducted. Enhancing the skill set of railway employees will ensure that they are well-equipped to handle emergencies and maintain safety standards. Additionally, creating awareness among passengers about safety measures and protocols can further contribute to reducing accidents.

In conclusion, addressing frequent railway accidents in India requires a holistic approach encompassing infrastructure modernization, stringent regulatory enforcement, advanced technology adoption, and comprehensive training programs. By implementing these measures, Indian Railways can enhance safety, minimize accidents, and ensure a secure travel experience for millions of passengers.

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 Answer Writing Practise for UPSC Mains

Topic: Government Policies and Interventions for Development in various sectors (Answer in 250 words)

  • Analyze the underlying causes of frequent rail accidents in India, and discuss the measures that can be implemented to enhance railway safety and prevent such incidents in the future. (Answer in 250 words)

Model Answer:

  • India has witnessed yet another gruesome train accident. At least 15 people are dead and 60 injured in West Bengal after a goods train collided with the Sealdah-bound Kanchanjunga Express near Rangapani station.
  • With population explosion and freight traffic expected to double by 2050, the dependency on railways is only going to rise further, which is why safety and security expectations are higher than ever. Frequent rail accidents in India stem from a confluence of systemic issues that compromise safety and efficiency.


  • One of the primary causes is the aging infrastructure. Many tracks, bridges, and signals are outdated and require urgent modernization. The lack of timely maintenance exacerbates the problem, leading to track failures and signal malfunctions. Moreover, the railways’ overburdened network, operating beyond its designed capacity, increases the likelihood of accidents due to congestion and wear and tear.
  • Another significant factor is human error, often a result of inadequate training and long working hours for railway staff. Fatigue, insufficient supervision, and the absence of advanced training programs contribute to mistakes that can lead to catastrophic accidents.
  • Additionally, the growing issue of track encroachments and the presence of unmanned level crossings pose severe risks. Encroachments hinder regular maintenance and inspections, while unmanned crossings often result in collisions.
  • The financial constraints faced by Indian Railways also play a crucial role. Limited funds restrict the ability to invest in modern safety technologies and infrastructure upgrades. This financial strain is compounded by the political and bureaucratic challenges that delay the implementation of safety measures.


  • To mitigate these issues and enhance railway safety, a multi-faceted approach is essential. Firstly, there must be a significant investment in upgrading infrastructure. This includes replacing old tracks and signals, modernizing bridges, and implementing advanced train protection and warning systems. The adoption of technologies such as the Train Collision Avoidance System (TCAS) can significantly reduce the risk of accidents.
  • Secondly, enhancing the training and working conditions of railway staff is critical. Regular training programs focusing on safety protocols and the use of modern technology should be mandatory. Additionally, reducing working hours and ensuring proper rest periods can help mitigate human errors caused by fatigue.
  • Improving financial health through innovative funding mechanisms and public-private partnerships can provide the necessary capital for these upgrades. The government can explore dedicated safety funds and incentivize private investment in railway projects.
  • Addressing track encroachments requires stringent enforcement of laws and active community engagement to find mutually beneficial solutions. Converting unmanned level crossings into manned ones or replacing them with overpasses and underpasses can significantly reduce collision risks.

In conclusion, enhancing railway safety in India necessitates a holistic strategy involving infrastructure modernization, human resource development, financial investment, and strict enforcement of safety regulations. By addressing these areas, the frequency of rail accidents can be significantly reduced, ensuring safer and more reliable railway operations.




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