15,000 die on Indian railways every year


Click to follow
The Independent Online

As anyone who has ever travelled by train in India is more than aware, when one visits the lavatory there is little between oneself and the rattling tracks below.

Not so obvious, perhaps, is the revelation that each time one uses the loo, it makes the railways a little more unsafe. The acidic content of what gets flushed, it turns out, steadily corrodes the tracks, making them unstable and unreliable.

The finding, and the recommendation that railways in India should be equipped with toilets that do not discharge directly onto the tracks, was among the contents of a report made by experts reviewing safety on the trains.

The committee said Indian Railways – which has an estimated 1.5m staff and is among the world’s largest employers – has much to do. The committee found that every year around people 15,000 die on the railways and described those fatalities as a “massacre” that was being ignored by railway authorities. About 6,000 people die on Mumbai’s crowded suburban rail network alone.

“No civilised society can accept such a massacre on their railway system,” the report said, referring to the deaths of people crossing the tracks. “Reluctance of the Indian railways to own up to the casualties, which do not fall under the purview of accidents, but are nevertheless accidents on account of trains, can by no means be ignored.”

One member of the investigation committee told the Indian Express newspaper that human excrement has corroded a significant percentage of the country’s 70,000 miles of tracks.  Dr Anil Kakodkar, head of the committee, told the newspaper: “It is one of the life limiting factors...because of the pH content of the toilet discharge, there is widespread corrosion of the rails. These toilets need to be discontinued. We also found that maintenance workers often refuse to service the undercarriage of the trains because discharge from toilets makes the undercarriage extremely dirty.”

The review committee was set up by the government last September after a spate of train accidents. An estimated 20 million people in India travel by train every day. The report called on the government to urgently replace all railroad crossings with bridges or overpasses over the next five years.