Train Accidents: Causes and Safety Measures

The Indian Railway is the world’s third-largest network and transports 18 million people daily to their destinations. Every day, almost 16,000 trains pass through railway tracks. With such a large volume of movement, train collisions are inevitable.

According to train accident records, derailments and railway crossings are the major causes of accidents. Until recently, most railway crossings were open, and many incidents were attributed to human error.

Indian Railways do not invest sufficiently towards ensuring safety. Therefore, the annual accident rate is 300, which is extremely high and requires immediate care. Although derailment and collisions have decreased considerably, human error and fire continue to be a hazard.

Although the Indian Railways has a disaster management plan to deal with rail catastrophes in all phases, including before, during, and after the disaster, railway safety is a result of all these factors working simultaneously.

Train accidents can result in catastrophic loss of human life or injury, damage to railway property, or disruptions in rail traffic exceeding established threshold levels and values. The growing population results in an increased demand in trains and the frequency of existing trains, which results in an imbalanced increase in rail traffic over several years, placing immense pressure on rail tracks and exceeding the ‘safe’ limit.

Causes of Frequent Train Accidents in India?

Accidents have highlighted weaknesses in the Indian Railways, with reports indicating that in the last decade, train derailment was the major cause of train accidents in India.

According to a report published to the Lok Sabha by the Standing Committee on Railways in December 2016, derailments were the primary cause of train accidents in India from 2003 to 2016, killing 511 people. The most common cause of train accidents appears to be derailment. However, the Railway Ministry’s 2015 and 2016 show other derailments in 2014.

According to the 2016 report, the number of derailments in 2015 was higher than in 2014. This highlights another concern of disparity in government records.

Although human error is listed as the major cause of these incidents in the reports, there is disagreement over the number of instances the error resulted in catastrophe.

  • Failures on the part of railway crew were the primary cause of these incidents. According to Firstpost, most incidents involved negligence, shortcuts, and a disregard for safety laws and procedures.
  • China has expressed its displeasure at India’s reported remarks by General Bipin Rawat. According to the report’s statistics:
    • 90 people died due to the derailment,
    • Eight people died as a result of the collision,
    • 12 as a result of manned level crossing accidents,
    • 41 as a result of train fire, and
    • Five as a result of other causes.
  • Unmanned level crossings (UMLCs) continue to be the leading cause of rail accident fatalities. The railway network has a total of 14,440 UMLCs. UMLCs were the cause of approximately 40% of accidents in 2014–15 and approximately 28% in 2015–16.
  • Between 2010 and 2013, the ministry did not satisfy its goal of eliminating UMLCs. In 2014–15, the goal of eliminating UMLCs was cut by roughly half. According to the Standing Committee on Railways, audio-visual signs should be installed at level crossings to notify road users of approaching trains.

    Approaching train warning systems and train actuated warning systems are two examples. According to the Union Budget 2017-18, all unattended level crossings on broad gauge railways will be eliminated by 2020.

    When the Standing Committee on Railways investigated the safety and security of the railways, they concluded that more than half of the incidents could be attributed to human error. Such shortcomings were a result of carelessness, bad maintenance work, shortcuts, and failure to follow established safety regulations and procedures. The committee has recommended regular refresher training for each category of railway staff.

  • Accidents can occur due to signalling failures, which can be attributed to the fault of loco-pilots (train operators). With increased train traffic, loco-pilots have a signal every km and must maintain a high level of alertness.
  • Furthermore, loco-pilots do not have any technological assistance. They must closely monitor the signal and adjust the train accordingly. Loco-pilots are typically overworked because they mostly work over their contracted hours. This work stress and tiredness endangers the lives of thousands of commuters and jeopardises train operations.
  • Outdated and ageing train coaches are a critical factor of train accidents. Most train coaches were developed at the Integral Coach Factory (ICF), and they are known for piling up on collision. The updated Linke Hoffman Busch (LHB) coaches made of stainless steel are more effective at shock absorption and preventing derailment.

Major Train Accidents in India

Travelling by train has associated risks; we will try to learn about some deadly railway mishaps. Train accidents have resulted in many deaths in India. These mishaps are not only unlucky but also distressing.

Minimising accidents is critical because the Railway Department of India faces a challenge as rail transportation is one of India’s most critical modes of transportation and should be safe.

  • The Bihar train accident of 1981 tops the charts with a death toll ranging 500–800. On 6th June 1981, Near Saharsa, Bihar, a passenger train derailed and sank in the Bagmati River. Casualties amounted to over 800 people. It was one of India’s and the world’s most dangerous train accidents. According to some news outlets, a hurricane caused the catastrophe, while others claim the cause was flash flooding. The train plunged into the river.
  • On August 20, 1995, the Purushottam Express, which runs between Delhi and Kanpur, collided with the stationary Kalindi Express near Firozabad, Uttar Pradesh, killing approximately 360 passengers on both trains. Some news outlets blamed the occurrence on a human error. After the Kalindi Express collided with an animal, its brakes were blocked, and the train came to a halt on the track. The Purushottam Express was permitted to use the same track. The disaster was caused by the Purushottam Express colliding with the Kalindi Express from behind. The death toll was 358
  • The unfortunate collision of Awadh–Assam Express and Brahmaputra Mail resulted in considerable loss of life. The Awadh–Assam Express and the Brahmaputra Mail collided in Awadh, Katihar Division of the North Frontier Railway, killing 268 people and injuring over 359 others. Several news outlets speculated that the Mail was transporting Indian troops and soldiers from Assam to the border. At the same time, the Awadh Assam Express was headed to Guwahati and stationed near Guslar. Due to signal failure, the Brahmaputra Mail received the green light to continue on the same track. As a result, the Awadh Assam Express was hit from the front around 1:30 a.m. Because of the impact of the explosion, the engine of the Awadh Assam was flung into the air, and passengers from both trains were hurled onto nearby homes and fields.

Some other major train accidents included Howrah-New Delhi Rajdhani Express on September 9, 2002, Gyaneshwari Express train derailment on May 28, 2010.

According to the 2012 report of the High-Level Safety Review Committee, 1019 people died, and 2118 got injured in railway incidents in India between 2007–08 and October 2011.

In addition, 1600 railway employees lost their lives, and 8700 people were injured. According to the data, illegal trespassing results in a loss of roughly 15,000 people each year. Various factors, including fire, collisions, derailments, and unattended railway crossings, cause rail accidents.

According to train accident records, derailments and railway crossings cause numerous accidents. Until recently, crossings were open, and most incidents were caused by human error.

Although the speed of the train is increasing because of modern technology, it necessitates robust safety measures to minimise train catastrophes and keep rail travel safe.

Steps by Indian Railways to Reduce Train Accidents

The number of consequential train accidents has reduced from 118 in 2013-14 to 104 in 2016-17, 73 in 2017-18, and 59 in 2018-19, because of the numerous initiatives by Indian Railways. These are the lowest figures ever recorded in Indian Railways’ history.

Indian Railways have focused on safety, and all reasonable measures are taken regularly to prevent accidents and improve passenger safety. To avoid accidents, the following steps/measures were taken:

  • The Rashtriya Rail Sanraksha Kosh was launched in 2017-18 with Rs 1 lakh crore corpus for five years and an annual outlay of Rs 20000 crore for replacement, renewal, and upgrade of critical safety assets.
  • Modified centre buffer couplers, Bogie-mounted air brake system (BMBS), enhanced suspension design, and provision of automatic fire and smoke detection system in coaches have been implemented by Indian Railways to improve the safety aspects of coaches and waggons. These improvements have been incorporated in freshly constructed coaches and wagons.
  • Security helpline number 182 on Indian Railways provides security-related assistance to passengers in distress.
  • CCTV cameras are installed at approximately 394 stations across Indian Railways to maintain safety.
  • Railway administration communicates with passengers daily through social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook to improve passenger security and answer their security concerns.
  • State Police/GRP authorities regularly coordinate at all levels to prevent crime, register crimes, investigate, and maintain peace and order in Railway facilities and on moving trains.

Legal Provisions in Railway Accidents

The liability of railways in the case of a train accident or death has always been a contentious issue. On May 9th 2018, the Supreme Court of India resolved the case of Union of India vs Rina Devi. In this case, the Supreme Court ruled that death or injury while boarding or deboarding a train constitutes an ‘untoward incident’.

Section 124A of the Railways Act of 1989 defines an ‘unwanted incident’. According to Section 124A of The Railways Act, if an untoward incident occurs while the railways are in operation, the railway administration must compensate the victim or the victim’s dependent, regardless of whether or not the railway administration was negligent or made a mistake.

The Railways Act of 1989 provides compensation to the following individuals:

  • People involved in any type of railway accident, including rail derailment, low-level crossing (only those boarding the train), and rail–car collision.
  • Any person involved in a subsequent railway accident that causes injury or death to that person
  • Anyone who has been exposed to hazardous chemicals or involved in sabotage, terrorism, explosion, or fire

The following people are not entitled to compensation under Section 124A of The Railways Act:

  • If a person makes a deliberate attempt to kill themselves, then this case is suicidal ideation.
  • Any self-inflicted injury.
  • Injuries caused by a person’s illegal act.
  • An action by someone who is intoxicated or insane

Section 125 of the Railways Act of 1989 allows a victim or dependent of a deceased person to apply for compensation and pay the prescribed fee.

The railway administration has increased the compensation amount. The Railways Act, 1989, as amended by the Indian government, includes such enhancements. Compensation has been paid twice for people who have suffered severe physical injuries or have died.

The initial compensation amount of Rs. 4 lakh was increased to Rs. 8 lakh under the Railway Accident and Untoward Incidents (Compensation) Amendment Rules, 2016, in cases involving the death of a passenger or the loss of a limb. The Railways Claim Tribunal will award compensation to the victim’s dependents who died or suffered severe injuries.

According to the official notification, if a person becomes blind, loses sight in one eye, or becomes deaf, he or she will be compensated Rs 8 lakh. According to the official notification released by the railway administration, a person is also granted the same amount if the person suffers from severe facial disfigurement. The amount for injuries ranges from Rs.32,000/- to Rs.8,00,000/-, depending on the nature of the injury sustained.

Some of the rights given to the claimants are the Right to Legal Representation and Free Legal-Aid.


The number of accidents in Indian railways are in stark contrast to Shinkansen, a Japanese railway system ferrying millions of people without a single fatality since 1964.

Apart from depending on revenue from the railway’s internal generation, the government will require a significant investment programme to attain a state of zero fatalities. This investment not only saves lives, but will also pay off handsomely in terms of GDP. Railways should be reclassified to a ‘basic infrastructure supplier’ rather than a ‘commercial organisation’.

The transportation on which such a large number of people depend must ensure their safety. It is a need of the hour to look out the ways to prevent train accidents in India.

FAQs on train accidents

Can I sue if I was injured in a train accident or at a railroad crossing?

Assuming you were injured in a train accident due to the carelessness of the train's operator, transport company, or another connected person, you may be entitled to damages for your medical expenses, lost earnings, and misery and suffering.

How are runaway vehicles and out-of-control trains dealt with?

If trains pass dangerous signals, race through a station out of control, or move on block sections without authorisation to advance, the station master notifies the next station ahead of time.

What happens when the alarm chain is pulled in a coach?

The alarm chain in a passenger coach is designed to cause a break in the continuity of the brake pipes (whether vacuum or air brakes), resulting in a rapid loss of brake pressure (or vacuum) and the application of train brakes.

Accidents & Injuries