The Indian Railways have ended this financial year with the best safety record in decades: for the first time in 35 years, the number of accidents are in two digits. Around this time last year, some of the worst accidents in recent times had dealt the image of the Railways a severe blow.
As of March 30, the number of accidents recorded in 2017-18 stood at 73 — 29 per cent fewer than the 104 in 2016-17.
In 1968-69, the number of railway accidents fell to three digits for the first time — to 908 from the 1,111 in the previous year. Three figures have remained the norm ever since — except in 1980-81, when the Railways recorded 1,013 accidents. But it was back to 797 accidents in the following year.
“We are absolutely keeping our fingers crossed and if you see, there is immense emphasis on safety everywhere,” Chairman Railway Board Ashwani Lohani told The Sunday Express. “There is also a voluntary reporting system now, which empowers every railway employee to anonymously report any safety-related lapse anywhere in India.”
Matching the fewer number of accidents this past year, the casualty figures, too, have been much lower than 2016-17, when the Indore-Patna Express derailment near Kanpur in November 2016 alone killed over 150 passengers.
As opposed to 68 derailments by this time the last fiscal, there have been only 39 so far this year. And accidents at unmanned level crossings have come down from 15 to just eight.
Fewer accidents notwithstanding, the Railways did go through a crisis in the financial year ended Saturday because of the derailment of the Utkal Express in August 2017, which killed over 20 people and set in motion a chain of events that led to the departure of then Railway Board chairman AK Mital and Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu.
Railway Minister Piyush Goyal and the Railway Board led by Lohani have stressed on safety upgrade works, even at the cost of temporarily affecting operations in many areas, like speed restrictions in a number of areas.