Tragedy Strikes as India’s Rail Network Claims Over 280 Lives

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In a catastrophic event that will go down in India’s history as one of the deadliest train accidents, more than 280 individuals lost their lives and over 1,000 were injured in a horrifying collision involving two passenger trains and a freight train.

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This devastating incident, which occurred in the eastern state of Odisha, has raised serious concerns about the safety of India’s antiquated railway infrastructure as the government attempts to modernize it.

As the search for survivors continues and authorities painstakingly count the casualties, investigators are poised to delve into the extent to which the aging railway system contributed to this unfathomable tragedy.

India’s railway network, constructed over 160 years ago during British colonial rule, spans an astonishing 67,000 miles of tracks and operates approximately 11,000 trains daily, making it one of the largest in the world. However, its obsolescence is glaringly apparent.

Amidst the chaos, the authorities have promptly ordered a “high-level inquiry” to ascertain the cause of the collision. Initial suspicions point towards a failure in traffic signaling, according to a senior state railway official.

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The ill-fated Coromandel Express, en route from Shalimar to Chennai, collided with a freight train, causing several coaches to derail onto the opposite track. Tragically, the Howrah Express, traveling in the opposite direction from Yesvantpur, smashed into the overturned carriages at high velocity.

The failure of traffic signaling systems can be attributed to either technical malfunctions or human error, as these signals are typically managed by personnel stationed at each stop, revealed a station superintendent in Odisha.

India has long grappled with decaying infrastructure, often cited as a primary factor behind traffic delays and numerous train accidents.

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Although government statistics indicate a decline in accidents and derailments in recent years, these incidents still occur with alarming frequency. Shockingly, in 2021 alone, nearly 18,000 railway accidents claimed the lives of over 16,000 individuals across the country.

According to the National Crime Records, a staggering 67.7% of railway accidents resulted from falls from trains or collisions between trains and individuals on the tracks. Collisions between trains themselves are relatively less common.

Recognizing the urgency to upgrade the nation’s transportation infrastructure, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made it a top priority in his mission to propel India toward a $5 trillion economy by 2025. In the current fiscal year, the Modi government has allocated a substantial $122 billion, amounting to 1.7% of the GDP, for capital spending on airports, road and highway construction, and other infrastructure projects.

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A significant portion of this investment is earmarked for the introduction of high-speed trains into India’s notoriously sluggish railway system. Notably, the new budget allocates a staggering $29 billion to railway development, as reported by the Albright Stonebridge Group, a prominent business-strategy firm.

The ambitious National Rail Plan, unveiled in 2021, aims to connect all major cities in northern, western, and southern India through high-speed rail. Priority is being given to cities with populations of at least one million and distances between 300 and 700 kilometers.

In pursuit of this vision, India has sought assistance from Japanese technology, engineers, and financial resources to construct the country’s first high-speed rail link—a 508-kilometer connection between Mumbai and Ahmedabad in western India. If all proposed projects materialize, an additional 12 routes could also receive high-speed rail links in the coming decades.

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Notably, several significant projects have recently been completed or are nearing completion, including the construction of the world’s tallest railway bridge in the Jammu and Kashmir region. It is important to mention that Prime Minister Modi was scheduled to inaugurate a new high-speed train, the Vande Bharat Express, on the very day tragedy struck.

While the government is actively engaged in upgrading trains, tracks, and stations with cutting-edge technology to avert disastrous collisions, it has come to light that one of the trains involved in Friday’s accident lacked an anti-collision device.

This revelation was made by a former railway minister, Mamata Banerjee, who emphasized that the presence of such a device would have prevented this horrific incident from occurring.

Regrettably, India has experienced several similar deadly incidents stemming from train accidents in recent decades. In 2005, a passenger train derailed in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh, claiming the lives of at least 102 people as it attempted to traverse tracks washed away by a flood.

Six years later, scores of individuals were killed when a train derailed in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh. Remarkably, the death toll from Friday’s collision has already surpassed that of another infamous incident in 2016, where over 140 lives were lost in a derailment in northern Uttar Pradesh.

It was in the same year that Prime Minister Modi announced significant investments in India’s railway system, with a primary focus on enhancing safety and connectivity.