The recent catastrophic Odisha triple train crash, which took place on 2nd June 2023, is being considered one of the deadliest-ever rail accidents in India. As of now, the Indian Railway Minister has said that it seems the accident is caused by malfunction/error in the electronic interlocking system which changes the tracks of the trains. The collision involved a freight train and two passenger trains, namely the 12841 Coromandel Express and the 12864 SMVT Bengaluru–Howrah SF Express. It is believed that the first train derailed, and some of its carriages ended up in the opposite track, where they were struck by the second train. The disaster led to the tragic loss of at least 288 lives and injured over 900 others.
Train accidents of this magnitude are unfortunately not uncommon in India. Several factors contribute to these mishaps, including faults in tracks, maintenance issues, and operating errors. Human errors such as faults of drivers, sabotage, signalman’s error, and mechanical failures also play a role. One particular issue is “rail fractures,” caused by the expansion or contraction of tracks during extreme weather conditions. According to industry insiders, a derailment typically requires a combination of multiple failures, such as signalling, mechanical, and civil engineering failures.
A significant issue hindering the improvement of rail safety is lack of adequate maintenance and funds. Loco pilots are under pressure to run more trains in less time, making it challenging to find adequate time for routine maintenance. The Comptroller and Auditor General analysis showed that shortage and non-utilisation of available funds for track renewals was responsible for 26 per cent of the derailments that took place between 2018 to 2021. Funds are crucial for replacing outdated carriages, building new tracks, and renewing the old ones. As it stands, more money is being spent on launching new trains than on safety and upgrading infrastructure.
In response to these ongoing issues, Indian Railways has taken measures to reduce train accidents, such as the introduction of the Rashtriya Rail Sanraksha Kosh (RRSK) for the replacement, renewal, and upgradation of critical safety assets. They have also adopted technological upgrades in safety aspects of coaches and wagons and replaced conventional ICF design coaches with LHB design coaches in a phased manner. Modern track structures are being used, and mechanization of track maintenance is being implemented to reduce human errors. Further, Indian Railways has started to use electronic systems like the Train Protection and Warning System (TPWS) and the Train Collision Avoidance System (TCAS) to prevent accidents due to human error.
Nonetheless, while these steps indicate progress, they are yet to be fully effective. According to a recent report, Indian Railways is planning to introduce a system called “Kavach,” which uses technology like GPS, radio frequency, and sensors to prevent collisions. This could be a significant step forward in ensuring railway safety and preventing future incidents, although further information on this initiative is still pending.
Rhe tragic Odisha triple train crash serves as a stark reminder of the challenges facing Indian Railways and how better tech maybe able to help. From improving infrastructure and maintenance to better funding allocation and the introduction of advanced safety technologies, a multifaceted approach is necessary to prevent such devastating accidents in the future.