Indian rail toll hits 142 on decrepit line
Concerns about poor condition, low safety standards, little investment
REUTERS/ Indian rescue workers concluded their search of the mangled carriages of a derailed train yesterday, bringing the number of passengers killed in the disaster to at least 142. More than 200 were injured.
Sunday’s derailment in the state of Uttar Pradesh was India’s deadliest train crash since 2010 and has renewed concern about the poor safety standard of the state-run network. It is a lifeline for millions of Indians but has suffered from chronic underinvestment.
Police at the accident site said rescue teams had finished their search for bodies buried in the 14 carriages that derailed in the early hours while most of the more than 500 passengers were asleep. Some reports indicated a rail was broken, causing the train to veer off the track.
“The rescue operations are over. We don’t expect to find any more bodies,” said Zaki Ahmed, police inspector general in the northern city of Kanpur. The largely colonial-era railway system, the world’s fourth largest, carries about 23 million people every day. But it is saturated and ageing badly. Average speeds top just 50kph and train accidents are common. The crash is a stark reminder of how hard it will be for Prime Minister Narendra Modi to fulfil his promise to transform the railways into a more efficient, safer network befitting India’s economic power.
Modi this year pledged record levels of investment and has announced a new high-speed line funded by Japan, but little progress has been made on upgrading tracks or installing modern signalling equipment.
He has also shied away from raising highly subsidised fares that leave the railways with next to nothing for investment.
A railway employee cuts a railway track at the site of Sunday’s train derailment in Pukhrayan, south of Kanpur city, India, yesterday