On Saturday, August 19, 2017, 14 coaches of the Kalinga Utkal Express travelling between Hardwar and Puri went off the rails near Muzaffarnagar, UP, killing 23 people and seriously injuring hundreds. Within three days of this, the Kaifiyat Express travelling between Azamgarh, UP and Delhi collided with a dumper that was crossing the tracks, near Kanpur, leading to derailment and injuries to many. Over the last 5 years there have been 586 train accidents out of which 53% or the majority were due to derailments.
In the case of the Utkal train derailment, the track was being repaired at the site of the accident. However the station masters at each of the railway stations on either side of the repair site had no knowledge that this was being done and hence could not give warning to the trains travelling on this route.
According to a railway ministry official, “As time for maintenance works has been shrinking, unscheduled track repairs – or tasks being done without official permission – have become a routine affair”. But during such repairs the standard operating procedures are not being followed. For example, a flagman has to be posted at a distance of 1.2 Km to warn the approaching train driver that repair work is going on and that they have to slow down. This was not done in the case of the Utkal Express leading to the loss of many precious lives.
Previously the work of repairing and maintaining the tracks was done by the gangmen, who formed the majority of the Class IV employees of the Indian Railways. 25 years ago the policy of liberalisation through privatisation and globalisation was introduced by the then Congress Government and followed successively by all governments, whether of the BJP, Third Front, etc. Since then the number of gangmen as well as the overall number of Class III and Class IV employees have been steadily reduced. Those who retire are not replaced and the Railways have followed a policy of abolishing the Class IV category entirely. The work of maintenance, patrolling and repair of the tracks was handed over to private contractors who hire workers at low wages and without adequate training. This is one of the reasons for the increase in number of derailments that is being witnessed.
The Railway Ministry is also enforcing a speed of 120-130 km/hr on tracks not suitable to go beyond 50-60 km/hr. According to the Railway's own data, the Delhi-Howrah route should not run more than 58 trains daily, but it operates about 105 to 110. More than 110-120 trains are run on the busiest Delhi-Howrah, Delhi-Mumbai and Delhi-Guwahati routes. As a result, the tracks are taking about 180 to 250 per cent of the prescribed train load, further contributing to rail fracture and derailments.
The increasing number of derailments and loss of lives that are taking place is a glaring indictment of the anti-people and anti-social policy of privatisation followed by the Indian Railways, and must be opposed by all the workers of Indian Railways as well as the working people of India!