Odisha triple train crash
Rescue operations going on at the train crash site in Balasore

Odisha train tragedy: CAG 2022 report flagged concerns on rail safety, warned of derailment

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While Union Railway Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw on Sunday said the “root cause” of the triple train crash in Odisha’s Balasore has been identified and will soon be disclosed in a report, critics have pointed to an audit report of the railways tabled in the Parliament in December last year, which flagged several serious lapses in rail safety.

In a 2022 report on ‘Derailments in Indian Railways’, India’s top auditing body, the Comptroller and Auditor General of India, sought to find out whether measures to prevent derailments and collisions were clearly laid down and implemented by the rail ministry.

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Majority of mishaps derailments

The report states that almost seven out of 10 railway accidents between 2017-18 and 2020-21 were derailments. Track defects, engineering and maintenance issues, and operating errors were the causes of these derailments, the report said.

The report also said that the overall allotment of funds for track renewal had been on the decline, and even the funds that were allocated were not utilised completely. This is alarming given that the report also states that 26% of the total derailments during 2017-21 were linked to track renewals.

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The report flagged severe shortfalls in inspections, failure to submit or accept inquiry reports after accidents, not utilising a dedicated railway fund on priority tasks, declining trend in funding track renewal, and inadequate staffing in safety operations as serious concerns. “There were shortfalls ranging from 30 to 100 per cent in inspections by Track Recording Cars required to assess geometrical and structural conditions of railway tracks,” it said.

The report also pointed to failures in the Track Management System, which is being widely discussed after the Odisha train crash. “Track Management System (TMS) is a web-based application for online monitoring of track maintenance activities. The in-built monitoring mechanism of the TMS portal was, however, not found to be operational,” it said.

Also read: Odisha train crash due to signalling issue, not overspeeding: Railway Board official

Maintenance of tracks key factor

CAG conducted an analysis of 1,129 ‘inquiry reports’, which account for 81% of the 1,392 derailment accidents. The audit revealed that 23 factors were responsible for derailments in the 1,129 selected cases. Of these, a maximum of 395 were due to issues that fell under the engineering department. The other factors accounting for derailments fell under the operating department (261), mechanical department (173), signalling department (27), and electrical department (10). Human error was the major factor responsible for derailments attributable to Loco Pilots, which stood at 149.

From April 2017 to March 2021, 422 derailments were attributable to the engineering department. The major factor responsible for derailment was related to the “maintenance of track” (171 cases), followed by “deviation of track parameters beyond permissible limits” (156 cases), the report said. “Bad driving/overspeeding” was the major factor responsible for derailments, it added. “Incorrect setting of points and other mistakes in shunting operations” accounted for 84%, the CAG found.

“Most of the derailments occurred due to simultaneous failures of each of the five barriers namely (i) Rules and Joint Procedure Orders (JPOs), (ii) Training/Counselling of staff, (iii) Supervision of operations, (iv) Coordination and communication between staff of different departments and (v) Scheduled Inspections,” the report said.

The ‘inquiry reports’ were not submitted to the accepting authority within the prescribed time schedule in 63% of cases and in 49% of cases, there was a delay in the acceptance of the reports by accepting authorities, it said.

Expenditure on priority tasks dips

The report said overall expenditure on priority tasks from the Rashtriya Rail Sanraksha Kosh — a reserve fund that received a corpus of ₹1 lakh crore over five years starting from 2017-18 — showed a declining trend. The allotment of funds for track renewal works declined, and the already allocated funds were also not fully utilised, the CAG report said.

“There was increasing trend on IR (Indian Railways) towards expenditure on non-priority works against the guiding principles of Rashtriya Rail Sanraksha Kosh (RRSK) deployment framework. The sole purpose of creating a separate dedicated fund for financing safety-related works was defeated, as safety-related works were held up due to fund constraints,” it said.

Also read: Odisha train tragedy: State facing morgue crunch as unclaimed bodies pile up

“Out of 1,127 derailments during 2017-21, 289 derailments (26 per cent) were linked to track renewals,” the CAG report said. Out of 2,908 manned level crossings targeted for elimination during 2018-21, only 2,059 (70%) level crossings were eliminated, it said.

Inadequate staff in safety

“Required steps were not taken for adequate staffing in the safety category, which can impact the quality of maintenance,” the CAG concluded.

The CAG recommended the Indian Railways to ensure strict adherence to the scheduled timelines for conducting and finalisation of accident inquiries and develop a strong monitoring mechanism to ensure timely implementation of maintenance activities by adopting fully mechanised methods of track maintenance and improved technologies.

“The deficiencies in setting up a foolproof system of learning from past mistakes are a serious impediment to the fulfilment of one of the main objectives of the accident inquiry reports of preventing recurrences of incidents of derailments,” it said.

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