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Key Takeaways

  • The first railway line in India was built in the 19th century, beginning the country's railway history.
  • Poor maintenance, signal malfunctions, accidents at level crossings, acts of terrorism or sabotage, and natural calamities are some of the main causes of train accidents in India.
  • The Railways Act, 1989 and the Railway Accidents and Untoward Incidents (Compensation) Rules, 1990 and CrPC provide provisions for the safety, and liability of the Indian Railways.
  • The Indian Government has implemented initiatives to prevent train accidents, such as KAVACH, Traffic Collision Avoidance System (TCAS), Guiding Principles for RRSK Fund Deployment, Adherence to Scheduled Timelines for Accident Inquiries, USFD testing of rails etc.
  • Although the government has placed laws and regulations in place to protect rail travel, challenges still exist due to expanding urbanisation, population growth, and a growing need for transportation. All stakeholders must work together to advance a knowledge- and accountability-based culture in order to overcome these problems.


Due to a number of issues, including India's extensive rail network, deteriorating infrastructure, overcrowding and overloading of trains, human error, encroachments, unauthorised crossings, and inadequate fencing, train accidents are a serious problem in India. These elements help to cause train accidents, which result in fatalities, injuries to passengers and railway workers, an interruption of transportation services, and monetary losses. In India, train accidents have devastating effects that include the loss of life, harm to passengers and railway workers, interruption of transportation services, and monetary damages.

The Beginnings

In India, rail travel has a long history that extends to the early 19th century.

  • (1830s–1850s):

Between Bombay (now Mumbai) and Thane, a 34-kilometer-long railway line was initially constructed in India.

The Great Indian Peninsular Railway (GIPR) built the railway with the help of British engineers.

Lord Dalhousie, the governor of Bombay at the time, signalled the start of the first train trip via 3 locomotives named Sahib, Sultan and Sindh on 16th April, 1853 from Bori bunder (Mumbai) to Thane.

  • (1850s-1900s):

With the development of additional lines connecting various regions of the nation in the late 1850s, the Indian railway network began to rapidly expand.

Railway lines connected important towns including Kolkata (formerly Calcutta), Chennai (previously Madras), Delhi, and Lahore (now in Pakistan) before the end of the 19th century.

Consolidating the administrative system required the passage of the Indian Railway Act of 1890.

  • (1900s-1947):

New lines were constructed in various locations, significantly expanding the Indian railway network.

The rail network was run by the Imperial Railway Companies, who also made infrastructure, signalling, and train stock advancements. Trade was facilitated, and commodities could be transported.

  • (1947 and later):

In 1947, when India became independent from British rule, the Indian government took over operation of the railways.

One of the biggest rail networks in the world, Indian Railways, was founded as a state-owned company.

With a focus on electrification, the introduction of new trains, and the creation of specific goods lanes, modernization and growth of the rail network continued.

Both the Rajdhani Express and the Shatabdi Express were introduced in 1988, giving customers the option of travelling more quickly and comfortably.

  • (Second Millennium-21st century)

Indian Railways has embraced a number of technical developments in recent years 

The booking process has become more practical with the advent of computerised ticketing systems, online reservations, and e-ticketing.

The development of high-speed rail projects, based on Japan's Shinkansen technology, has also been started by Indian Railways. One such landmark project is the Mumbai-Ahmedabad High-Speed Rail Corridor.

The Indian Railways network today connects thousands of towns, cities, and villages across the nation across a distance of more than 67,000 kilometres, making a substantial contribution to the economic and social advancement of India.

Factors Contributing to Train accidents in India

The Commissioner of Railway Safety (CRS) is responsible for investigating train accidents in India, and criminal proceedings may be initiated against the concerned railway officials or employees. Civil proceedings can also be filed in the appropriate civil court.

Inadequacies in the infrastructure, mistakes made by people, mechanical malfunctions, and natural calamities are just a few of the reasons why train accidents might happen in India. The following are some of the main causes:

  • Poor Maintenance: Equipment failures can result from inadequate maintenance of tracks, rolling stock, and signalling systems. To avoid accidents, routine maintenance and inspection are essential.

Derailments were the main reason for railway accidents in India from 2003 to 2016, which resulted in 511 fatalities, according to a study presented to the Lok Sabha by the Standing Committee on Railways in December 2016.

  • Signal malfunctions: Collisions or train derails may occur as a result of malfunctioning or misinterpreted signals. 
  • Accidents at Level Crossings: When a train is coming, accidents happen when vehicles or persons try to cross the tracks, resulting in collisions.

The Indian Railways has taken up the task of eliminating manned level crossings in a mission-oriented manner, with an average of 1,884 per year during 2014-2019. In 2022-23, 216 manned level crossings have been eliminated, surpassing the target of 1,000, with an average of 676 closures per year. These efforts indicate positive strides in enhancing railway safety and reducing accidents.

  • Acts of terrorism or sabotage: These target the rail system and result in mishaps and a disruption of train service. 

For instance, on July 11, 2006, seven bomb bombings on Mumbai trains resulted in the deaths of almost 200 people and the injury of hundreds more. The coordinated explosions were attributed to the Lashkar e Toiba (LeT) and Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) link.

Major Train accidents and Causes

In India, there have been a number of major train accidents over the years. Here are a few illustrations:

1. Gaisal Train Disaster (1999): On August 2, 1999, the Awadh Assam Express and the Brahmaputra Mail crashed close to Gaisal in Assam. Over 300 people were hurt, and 290 people died as a result of the tragedy. A signal failure led to the collision.

2. Khanna Rail Accident (1998): On November 26, 1998, the local Kalindi Express and the Howrah-Amritsar Mail collided close to Khanna in Punjab. Over 300 people were hurt, and 212 people died as a result. A signal error had resulted in the tragedy.

3. Firozabad Rail Disaster (1995): On August 20, 1995, a derailed freight train and the Purushottam Express collided near Firozabad in Uttar Pradesh. More than 400 people were hurt, and 358 people died as a result of the catastrophe. The inability to follow the right safety measures while performing maintenance work was identified as the accident's primary cause.

4. The Indore-Patna Express derailed on November 20, 2016, just outside of Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh. 150 individuals lost their lives in the catastrophe, and many more were hurt. A rail fracture was previously thought to be the cause of the incident.

Legal Framework in Place

The primary legislation related to train accidents is the Railways Act, 1989. This act provides provisions for the safety, operation, and liability of the Indian Railways. Additionally, the following laws and regulations may also apply to train crash cases in India:

1. Railway Accidents and Untoward Incidents (Compensation) Rules, 1990: These rules outline the compensation mechanism for victims of train accidents and untoward incidents. It provides guidelines for determining the compensation amount based on the nature and severity of injuries or loss of life.

2. Indian Penal Code (IPC): The IPC contains provisions related to criminal offenses that may apply in cases of train crashes. Sections such as culpable homicide (Section 299-304), causing death by negligence (Section 304A), and endangering the safety of others (Section 336-338) can be invoked if there is evidence of negligence or misconduct leading to the accident.

3. Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC): The CrPC lays down the procedural aspects of criminal investigations and trials. It governs the process of registering FIRs (First Information Reports), collecting evidence, conducting investigations, and initiating legal proceedings in train crash cases.

4. Civil Laws: In addition to criminal proceedings, victims or their families may also pursue civil remedies for compensation. Civil laws, including the Law of Torts, can be invoked to seek damages for injuries, loss of life, or property damage caused by train accidents.

In the case of-  Jameela & Ors vs Union Of India on 27 August, 2010

The appellants filed a claim case for compensation of Rs.11,11,000.00 under the Railways Act, 1989 for the death of M. Hafeez. The Railway claims tribunal, Lucknow held that the High Court erred in ruling that the applicants were not entitled to any compensation under section 124A of the Act, as the deceased had died due to his own negligence.

The Odisha Train tragedy

Three trains collided on 2 June 2023 near the city of Balasore in Odisha, eastern India. The collision occurred between the 12841 Coromandel Express and the 12864 SMVT Bengaluru–Howrah SF Express, following an initial crash involving a goods train near the Bahanaga Bazar railway station. This tragic incident resulted in the loss of 288 lives and left over 1,175 individuals injured. The Shalimar-Chennai Coromandel Express had received a signal to proceed on the mainline towards Chennai but was mistakenly switched to a loop line where the goods train was stationed. The goods train, carrying iron ore, remained stationary and undamaged. The impact of the Coromandel Express colliding with the goods train at a speed of 128 km/h was so severe that its engine climbed onto the goods train, causing 22 passenger carriages to derail. Three of the derailed coaches struck parallel tracks, hitting the rear of the 12864 SMVT Bengaluru-Howrah SF Express as it passed through the station simultaneously.

In response to this tragedy, the railway authorities announced a compensation plan. Families of the deceased would receive ₹10 lakh, severely injured individuals would be provided ₹2 lakh, and those with minor injuries would receive ₹50,000. Additionally, an ex gratia compensation of ₹2 lakh from the PMNRF would be given to the families of the deceased, and ₹50,000 to the injured.

Mamata Banerjee, the Chief Minister of West Bengal, pledged compensation of ₹5 lakh to the families of passengers from West Bengal who lost their lives, ₹1 lakh to those critically injured, and ₹50,000 to individuals with minor injuries.

Furthermore, the railways recommended a CBI probe into the incident.

Preventive Measures Implemented by Railway Authorities to Avert Accidents

Indian Government's Initiatives to Prevent Train Accidents:

  • KAVACH - An Indigenous Automatic Train Protection (ATP) System:

 This Automatic Train Protection (ATP) system is a collaborative effort between the Research Design and Standards Organisation (RDSO) and the Indian industry.

KAVACH aims to ensure safety by preventing trains from crossing a signal when it is red. If a train driver disregards the signal and jumps a red signal, the KAVACH system automatically activates the train's braking system, thereby averting potential collisions.

  • Traffic Collision Avoidance System (TCAS) for Effective Communication:

This system facilitates real-time communication between the station master and the loco-pilot. It enables the swift transmission of emergency messages, enhancing coordination and reducing the risk of accidents.

  • CAG audit report on derailments (2022)
  • Formulation of Guiding Principles for RRSK Fund Deployment:

In order to optimize the utilization of Rashtriya Rail Sanraksha Kosh (RRSK) funds, it is recommended to establish guiding principles for deploying these funds for each safety-related work item. This approach enables a systematic allocation of funds and prioritize critical safety measures.

2. Adherence to Scheduled Timelines for Accident Inquiries:

To streamline the accident investigation process, strict adherence to scheduled timelines is crucial. This entails conducting and finalizing accident inquiries within the designated timeframes. 

  • USFD testing of rails, mechanization of track maintenance, track management system, electrical/electronic interlocking system, and track circuiting of stations is being implemented to reduce human errors and improve safety. Mechanization of track maintenance is also being done to reduce human errors.


Tragic incidences that caused the loss of life and material damage have stained India's history of rail accidents. To protect the safety of rail travel, the government has put in place a number of laws and rules, including the creation of institutions like the Railway Safety Commission and the Railway Accident Investigation Bureau. To enforce safety regulations, control railway operations, and hold accountable individuals guilty for negligence or misbehaviour that results in accidents, laws like the Railways Act and the Railways (Amendment) Act have also been passed. The increased urbanisation, population expansion, and rising need for transportation, however, continue to be problems. Adequate funding, ongoing oversight, and rigorous adherence to safety regulations are necessary to address these issues. 

It is crucial that all parties involved—including the government, railway authorities, and the general public—cooperate to put safety first, put best practises into place, and promote a culture of knowledge and accountability.

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