Update: July 24, 2017

A steep increase in train accidents has accompanied a slowdown in the pace of track renewal by Indian Railways over the past year.

'Consequential accidents', or train accidents attributed to shortcomings in railway tracks climbed from 24 to 35, or 45.83%, in 2016-17, data released in a report in the Lok Sabha on Wednesday showed.

It is no coincidence, senior officials said, that the railways appears to have put the brakes on track renewal the same year, failing to meet its 2016-17 fiscal target after exceeding its objectives for each of the two previous financial years.

Meerut-Lucknow train derailment:April 2017

"Lack of timely track renewal is a major cause of train accidents," a senior railway official said. "Track maintenance standards have also fallen as the railways is not purchasing adequate spares for track maintenance."

The railways renewed 2,487km of track across the country of a targeted 2,668km in 2016-17, down from 2,794km in 2015-16 and not even matching the previous year's goal of 2,500km.

Railway officials said a vicious cycle often derails track renewal: High capacity lines require the most track repair/renewal but the window for this work is small because they are the busiest routes.

Last month, a news agency reported that Indian Railways' ambitious 10,000-crore plan for capacity addition and track renewal faces delays as Steel Authority of India (SAIL) was not able to meet demand required. The Railway Board chairman reportedly wrote to SAIL, asking officials of the country's largest steel producer to step up supply.

Indian Railways has a track network of around 92,000km. Track renewal is a periodic process that the engineering wing of the public transporter carries out based on age and wear and tear of sections on various lines.

Track renewal by the railways takes into account traffic on stretches of track, incidence of rail fractures and other factors such as failures and corrosion – a process in large necessitated because an estimated 40% of railway tracks in the country are "saturated", meaning their utilisation exceeds 100% of their capacity.

Accident-related information from three zones, Northern Railway, Central Railway and Southern Railway from April 1, 2016 to March 31, 2017 shows failure of tracks caused 50% of all accidents. Data the railway ministry tabled in Parliament shows that in 40% of all accidents, investigators cite track defect as at least one of the reasons.

The railways blamed track faults for several accidents in 2016-17. These include the May 1, 2016 derailment of eight coaches of the Delhi-Faizabad Express in Uttar Pradesh; the August 28, 2016 derailment of 12 coaches of the Trivandrum-Mangalore Express in Kerala; and a December 29, 2016 accident in which five coaches of passenger train between Kalyan and Vithalwadi jumped tracks because of fatigued railway tracks.

Source:Times of India

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