The top brass of Indian Railways have reportedly been asked to prepare safety plans and oversee their implementation fortnightly. 

Officials have been told that concrete and detailed plans on aspects of safety, signalling (including staff training) and possible ways to deal with crew fatigue need to be prepared.

In a review meeting carried out in November and chaired by the Minister, Ashwini Vaishnaw, the latter suggested that safety plans need to be prepared on a 14-day basis and reviews be carried out regularly by senior zonal railway officials who also need to oversee the implementation of these plans.

There have been safety-related incidents across different zonal Railways, prompting the need to put review plans covering a shorter time frame in place. 

Train Accidents

Post the Balasore triple train collision, which is seen as one of the worst accidents leading to the loss of nearly 300 lives and multiple injuries, there was the derailment of six coaches of the Delhi-Kamakhya North East Express in Buxar on October 11, leading to 4 deaths and 40 injuries, and a rear-end collision between two passenger trains in Andhra Pradesh leaving 12 dead and 38 injured.

The Odisha disaster was attributed to faulty wiring and signalling failure, the Buxar derailment to faulty rail, and the Andhra collision to signal overshooting. 

There have also been several other incidents, like fire in trains. 

Typically, zonal railways undertake safety reviews every month, it is being said. Maintenance blocks are taken up 2-odd months in advance. 

In 2022-23, 48 consequential train accidents occurred, compared to 35 in the previous year, 2021-22. Consequential accidents in Rail parlance include train accidents having serious repercussions in terms of loss of human life, human injury, loss of Railway property and interruption to Rail traffic.

There were 162 non-consequential accidents, including 35 SPAD cases, that occurred in the year 2022-23 as compared to 208 in 2021-22. 

“Increase in consequential accidents is a matter of grave concern,” a Railways internal report accessed by businessline said. 

Review meetings - Now and Then 

In response, Railways confirmed that the review meeting occurred where the Minister “emphasised various safety aspects of automatic signaling , long hours of crews , yard modernisation and safety in yard infrastructure, duster management team.” 

The said meeting on November 25 was attended by Railway Board Members, officials from zones and divisions and RDSO officials. 

According to officials, the Minister emphasised automatic signalling, yard modernisation and safety in yard infrastructure, disaster management team (and speeding up responses), among other issues at the meeting.

A common concern was reportedly the crew’s long hours leading to fatigue and a possible reason for signals (being) passed at danger (SPAD), an incident where the train went through a red light. 

In an earlier meeting (minutes dated May), it was pointed out that despite large-scale counselling of loco pilots, “SPAD cases are still occurring”. Earlier suggestions pointed out that there was a need for the right enginemanship to be followed by loco pilots, and if wrong practices are being followed, these need to be rectified.

In October this year, the Indian Railways re-worked positions and redistributed work among executive directors of the safety department. 

 The office order, seen by businessline, re-designates ED (Safety) as ED/Safety - S&T (Signalling & Telecom), while ED Safety II will be ED/Safety Traffic. Work realignment we’re carried out, too. This was done to ramp up safety reviews while speeding up inquiries in case of untoward incidents.