FB   
 
Powered bysps
        Society for Policy Studies
 
 

 
Why are India’s trains so deadly? Subsidised tickets contribute to serious underinvestment in the system
Updated:Aug 26, 2017
 
Print
Share
  
increase Font size decrease Font size
 
By Abhishek Parajuli
 
Earlier this month a colleague at the Financial Times found himself lying bruised at a railway station in India as a moving train tore into his leg. He was waiting for a train at a busy station in Mumbai when, in the frenetic frenzy to board his evening train, he was punched in the right eye, lost his balance and found his left leg lodged under the oncoming train. Luckily, he survived. Last Saturday, 23 others were not as lucky. They died when their train was derailed about 80 km north of Delhi. 156 others were injured.
 
India’s railway is the most deadly in the world with 27,581 deaths in 2014 alone. That is about 530 people dying every single week. In the US that same year, 16 people died in railway accidents every week. In the UK the number was less than seven. Why do so many Indians perish on train tracks and what can be done to fix the problem? The answer is surprising: Subsidies, meant to keep the railways accessible to the poor, may be a key culprit.
 
Some of the biggest drivers of death on India’s railways are derailments, people falling off overcrowded trains and others being run over as they cross railway tracks. The common thread linking these myriad causes is a lack of sufficient investments in a rail network that transports more than 23 million passengers a day – that’s the equivalent of moving the entire population of Australia every single day. The government’s decision to heavily subsidise rail fares has left it with insufficient funds to invest in its railways.
 
Overcrowded trains are the clearest symptom of the problem. Artificially low fares attract millions of Indians to take trains over other forms of transport. The same subsidies also burn a hole in railways balance sheets leading to under-investment in new trains and routes. The result is dangerous overcrowding. Many take extraordinary risks on their daily commutes by hanging out the doors and windows and riding atop moving trains.
 
Derailments happen when tracks are old and prone to fatigue fractures; one report found this is more likely when tracks are over-utilised. In India, 40% of the line-sections are run at above 100% of their capacity. With so many trains running so closely together, there is less time for engineers to inspect the tracks to make sure they remain safe. Yet again, lack of investment has created a serious safety problem by increasing demand for train travel while simultaneously limiting supply of critical safety features.
 
Casinos are illegal in most of India but if you want to see risk taking behaviour you don’t have to go much further than a railway crossing. The absence of road-over and road-under bridges means many people are forced to cross railway tracks on level crossings. In fact, 40% of all train accidents in India happen at these deadly crossings. But given removing each level crossing costs about Rs 4 crore, it’s unlikely the cash-strapped railway will be able to deal with this problem any time soon.
 
It’s easy to see why railway subsidies have been so popular and hard to remove. For all the talk of India’s growing stature, GDP per capita is still only 3% that of the US. When you factor in the high income inequality, you begin to see why subsidised travel is a near necessity for many Indians.
 
And yet, what is equally clear is that the poor pay with their lives when safety is compromised by underinvestment. The government needs to invest more in railways and given there is no magic money tree – India also has one of the lowest tax penetration rates in the world with only about 2% of Indians paying income tax– it may have to take another look at removing some railway subsidies.
 
Many urgent changes like the introduction of fire safety devices, anti-collision technologies and track monitoring systems have been delayed as the railway struggles to fund itself. While poor Indians will require support for travel, the current levels of subsidies are unsustainable unless India is willing to live with high fatalities or able to find new sources of funding. Continuing to allow more than 75 Indians to die on its railway tracks every single day seems like an unsustainable proposition.
 
 
 
 
 
Print
Share
  
increase Font size decrease Font size
 

Disclaimer: South Asia Monitor does not accept responsibility for the views or ideology expressed in any article, signed or unsigned, which appears on its site. What it does accept is responsibility for giving it a chance to appear and enter the public discourse.
Comments (Total Comments 0) Post Comments Post Comment
Review
 
 
 
 
spotlight image Relations between India and Peru  are united by El Niño and the monsoon yet separated by vast distances across oceans.  Jorge Castaneda, Ambassador of Peru to India, talks to INDIA REVIEW & ANALYSIS exclusively about what is bringing the two geographically-apart countries closer.
 
read-more
The United Nations General Assembly rallied around world court Judge Dalveer Bhandari of India on Monday in his bid for reelection, defying the Security Council where permanent members and their allies put up a fight to protect one of their own, Britain's Christopher Greenwood.
 
read-more
The internet services are often being shut down in Kashmir which puts the people through ordeal. In these times when lives have become dependent on the internet, snapping the service only results into throwing the developmental process at standstill. Modern businesses are increasingly reliant on the uninterrupted internet services.
 
read-more
The participating governments at this year’s Asean summit had one underlying interest in mind: to determine the way United States President Donald Trump handles China.
 
read-more
This week a major United Nations gathering on climate change gets underway in Bonn, Germany.
 
read-more

In its own coded and diplomatic style, the World Bank has warned that the government’s growth story is now at risk given the scale of the macroeconomic imbalances growing within it.

 
read-more
Column-image

Title: The People Next Door -The Curious History of India-Pakistan Relations; Author: T.C.A. Raghavan; Publisher: HarperCollins ; Pages: 361; Price: Rs 699

 
Column-image

Could the North Korean nuclear issue which is giving the world an anxious time due to presence of hotheads on each side, the invasion of Iraq and its toxic fallout, and above all, the arms race in the teeming but impoverished South Asian subcon...

 
Column-image

Title: A Bonsai Tree; Author: Narendra Luther; Publisher: Niyogi Books; Pages: 227 Many books have been written on India's partition but here is a firsthand account of the horror by a migrant from what is now Pakistan, who ...

 
Column-image

As talk of war and violence -- all that Mahatma Gandhi stood against -- gains prominence across the world, a Gandhian scholar has urged that the teachings of the apostle of non-violence be taken to the classroom.

 
Column-image

Interview with Hudson Institute’s Aparna Pande, whose book From Chanakya to Modi: Evolution of India’s Foreign Policy, was released on June 17.