New Delhi: Thirty-nine people are killed every day on rail tracks while trespassing and the casualty in such accidents between 2009-2012 was over 50,000.
These figures, which hold relevance in the wake of the Bihar train tragedy in which 28 pilgrims were mowed down by a train, show Indian Railways in a poor light when compared with modern railways in Japan and western countries.
While Japan has reported no death on rail tracks in the last 50 years, the number of fatalities due to trespassing is far less in US and Europe as compared to in India.
According to Railway Ministry data, 50,298 people were killed from January 2009 to June 2012 which means on an average there are 14,370 trespassing deaths per year and 39 deaths every day.
While 14,376 people were killed on railway tracks and level crossings in 2009 due to trespassing, the number of deaths rose to 12,894 in 2010, according to the data.
The trespassing casualty rose further to 14,611 in 2011 and was recorded at 8,412 till June 2012.
On the other hand, in the UK there were only 36 and 16 deaths due to trespassing in 2009 and 2010 respectively while 852 such deaths had taken place in entire Europe in 2009 and 750 in 2010.
A total of 695 people were killed in train accidents in the US from 2000 to March 2012, while in Japan no such deaths have been reported in the last 50 years.
Railway Minister Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury said, "We cannot compare ourselves with Japan. It is a much more advanced country and we cannot compare ourselves with them."
When asked whether Japanese system can be replicated here, he said, "India is a country of more than 1.2 billion population. It is next to impossible to imagine it."
Former Railway Minister Dinesh Trivedi, however, differs with Chowdhury. "We are not serious about safety. One has to be serious about what to do. Our Metro system is running well without any accident. If you have a system then everything can be arranged. In Japan they have done it with the system and as a result there are no deaths on tracks."
Trivedi in his Rail Budget 2012-13 also mentioned that safety on Indian Railways has to be benchmarked against other modern railway systems in the world be it in Europe or Japan.
"Safety standards have been remarkable in these systems with no deaths due to rail accidents for decades together on high speed routes," he said.
Maximum number of deaths take place near level crossings
as Railways have 31,254 such crossings across the country out of which 12,582 are unmanned.
Though Railways plans to eliminate all unmanned level crossings, the pace of the construction of road over-bridges and road under-bridges is slow despite the repeated incidents at these spots.
Steps are being taken in coordination with the state governments to eliminate 9,808 unmanned level crossings in the 12th Five-Year Plan, said a senior Railway Ministry official involved with safety.
Admitting that there is a need for upgrading the system, the official said, "It is a continuous process. As far as Japan is concerned most of its tracks are either elevated or fenced off and there is a higher civic discipline prevalent in that country.
"But in India whenever we have tried to construct walls at some stretches they were always breached. Then there are slums at both sides of the track. Even our foot over bridges are also not used as people prefer to cross the line," the official added.
Railways is yet to implement the recommendations of the Kakodkar Committee, which was constituted by Trivedi to suggest ways to to improve the safety standards and make the national transporter accident-free.
Member of the Railway Board (Engineering) Subodh Jain
said, "Trespassing on tracks do not happen in Japan. People do not even cross roads except on dedicated zebra crossings. The entire high speed track is fenced off. Though there are conventional tracks which are not covered, there has been no trespassing case reported so far."
Maharashtra has recorded the maximum number deaths (1356) due to trespassing followed by West Bengal (1049) in 2012.
In Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh, the casualty figures due to trespassing were as high as 996 and 819 respectively in 2012.
The number of deaths in Bihar during this period was 228.
Jain further said the ground condition cannot be compared with Japan as our population size and rail network are much bigger than Japan.
When floods come people shift to track because rail lines are on higher plane, Jain said.
There was a proposal to set up an independent Railway Safety Authority as a statutory regulatory body to work out guidelines on passenger safety which will be on the lines of international practices.
However, the proposal has been gathering dust as no step has been initiated for forming the body yet.
Former Chairman Railway Board Vinay Mittal said, "Accidents happen in other countries also. Our system carry more passengers and freight trains so it cannot be compared to Japan. Also, people in Japan are more disciplined and have a better work culture."
Mittal suggested that slums should be removed to prevent trespassing.
"It is not possible to fence off the entire track here but steps like removal of encroachment along the tracks should be taken," he said.
Railways has about 65,000 km of rail route and 1,15,000 km track length including doubling and trebling in the country.