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India’s Railway Crash And The Risks Of Modernization

India's Railway Crash
India’s railway crash which occurred in India’s eastern state of Odisha on June 2, 2023, was a tragic accident, one of the worst in the country’s recent history. However, as many have pointed out, it is one of many accidents. Indian citizens and external organizations alike are criticizing Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his seeming prioritization of speeding up India’s modernization over the safety of workers carrying out the modernization. This elicits wonder as to what position India’s railway system occupies in the country’s path to zero poverty and how authorities can better manage it and ensure it does not become a source of harm in the fight against poverty.

India’s Railway System

India boasts the fourth largest railway system in the world, having built more than 68,000 km of track. More than 24 million people use the railway system every single day and the system transports nearly 204 million tonnes of freight throughout the world’s seventh-largest country. It began in 1954 and is also one of the oldest systems in the world. The Indian government manages this huge, sprawling network of trains and passengers under the company Indian Railways.

Indian Railways is therefore the second-largest employer in India after the Indian Armed Forces and the seventh-largest employer in the world. Under the state, 1.4 million people earn a living while contributing to the economic activity of India, allowing business owners who depend on train transport to make a stable income.

As such, the Indian railway system is a symbol of India’s modernization. The network hosts the world’s tallest railway bridge, which will open to visitors in late 2023/early 2024. It has also developed a High-Speed Rail Track system using Japanese bullet train technology. These advancements are displays of the increasing wealth of the Indian economy as well as indicators of how India is using the whopping $30 billion budget for train development at the moment. From these statistics alone, it seems that India is witnessing a decrease in poverty levels.

The Consequences of the Crash

The events of June 2 in Odisha threw the pace and stability of such rapid modernization and poverty alleviation into question. On the day, two passenger trains carrying more than 3,000 travelers and a freight train collided near Bahanaga Bazar station. The collision was one of the worst train railway crashes in India, with 288 recorded deaths and more casualties.

Furthermore, due to the lack of clarity surrounding the official cause of India’s railway crash, many eyes are turning toward India’s Automatic Train Protection (ATP) system, called Kavach. Kavach emerged in March 2022 and boasted advanced elements like an automatic brake application, aids to improve visibility in unfavorable conditions and communication and SOS response systems in cases of emergency. Yet, Kavach either did not undergo development or failed to work adequately in the trains that were in the Odisha railway crash.

While this is all hearsay at the moment, the severity of the crash has put the safety of the Indian railway system into focus, in contrast to the newness of Kavach and the billions that PM Modi spent on modernizing Indian Railways. The Guardian, for example, stressed the increase of Indian rail accidents by 37% in 2022 despite Kavach’s introduction and stated that “safety remains the biggest problem for the Indian railways.”

Moving Forward After India’s Railway Crash

Kavach is a great idea for ensuring the safety of all those who work for Indian Railways and the millions of ordinary people using its services on a daily basis. However, it could be beneficial to employ human safety managers alongside this advanced technology, as such a move would also increase the number of jobs available in the Indian labor market.

Having people specialize in monitoring and operating Kavach would unleash the full potential of this safety mechanism and the overall capacity of the railway system in India to carry the country out of unemployment and poverty. The loss of talented lives, the stress on medical services and the damage to the reputation and credibility that a crash like the one in Odisha has caused could be repaired in the long run. All in all, there appears to be a need for Indian Railways to combine the human and mechanical potential to prioritize the safety of its services.

– Tiffany Chan
Photo: Flickr