The Ministry of Railways is leaving no stone unturned to fulfill Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s dream project of bringing the bullet train to India, and the work on country’s first high-speed rail corridor between Mumbai to Ahmedabad has already begun.
Now, there are also reports to start the second bullet train between Delhi to Amritsar via Chandigarh. But the burning question is, are we really prepared for high-speed bullet trains that will run at the speed of 300kmph and above, when trains running at mere 80-100kmph are derailing at regular intervals?
On Saturday, Kalinga Utkal Express that runs on an average speed of nearly 75 kmph derailed in Uttar Pradesh’s Muzaffarnagar and according to the initial reports, though unconfirmed, the incident that claimed at least 23 lives occurred due to the faulty track and poor communication.
According to few studies, Indian Railways is the world’s largest railway network in terms of being under a single management. It has a route distance of nearly 66,030 kms, an operating fleet of 2,43,337 wagons (in terms of 8-wheelers), 61,464 coaching vehicles, and 10,773 locomotives.
When the maintenance of existing railway infrastructure is appearing a Herculean task for our government, it raises serious questions about India’s capability to run and maintain high-speed rail network.
According to data, between 2003 and 2016, a total 1,232 accidents including collision and derailments occurred on the tracks. In these accidents, 1,393 people lost their lives.
In last two years alone, 155 people have lost their lives in 165 incidents of train collision and derailment.
According to the Standing Committee Report on Railways safety and security, major factors for train derailments were rail fracture, weld failure and other track defects, coach and wagon defects, SPAD, etc.
The report further says, "These concerns can be addressed by timely replacement of over-aged assets, adoption of suitable technology for upgradation and maintenance of track, rolling stock, signalling and interlocking systems, safety drives, greater emphasis on training of officials and inspections at regular inspections to monitor and educate staff for observance of safe practices."
Faulty track is being given the reason for Muzaffarnagar train accident which clearly says the above guidelines of Standing Committee Report were overlooked and due to that 24 people have to lost their life and over 100 were injured.
According to the Khanna Railway Safety Review Committee – 1998, Indian Railways have a staggering 34,000 over-aged wagons, 1,322 over-aged coaches, and 1,560 stations with worn-out signaling.
The report has also listed 262 bridges as “distressed”. The Railways in April 2003 acknowledged that over 51,000 bridges were built in the 19th century. Out of a total of 1,27,154 bridges in India, 56,178 are more than 80 years old.
The Khanna Committee had made 278 recommendations out of which only 236 were accepted and those too could not be implemented fully.
According to the Standing Committee Report on Railways, “There has been significant decline in expenditure on Railways as a percentage of transport sector expenditure. Railway expenditure as a percentage of transport sector expenditure has come down from 56 percent in Seventh Plan (1985-90) to 30 percent in Eleventh Plan (2007-12).”
Ministry of Railways (MOR) with the Life Insurance Corporation of India (LIC) on March 11, 2015, has agreed to finance Rs1,50,000 crore to Railways for financing projects.
Rs.1,27,000 crore, out of the total Rs.1,50,000 crore would be used for the proposed Investment Plan for the five years (2015-2019) for funding of safety related works (track renewal, bridge works, ROB, RUB and Signalling & Telecom).
Given the present sorry state of affairs, the big question that needs to be answered is- Do we need bullet trains or better trains?