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With 580 accidents in past 5 years, India's ageing rail network needs urgent overhaul
Last Updated: 2017-08-21 07:15 | Xinhua
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A day after 23 people were killed and more than 90 others injured in a train accident in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, Indian Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu Sunday asked the railways to fix responsibility by the end of the day.

Prabhu directed Chairman of Railway Board A.K. Mittal, the top executive official of the Indian Railways, to fix responsibility for the derailment of Kalinga Utkal Express, based on prima facie probe.

"Will not allow laxity in operations by the (Railway) Board. Have directed CRB (chairman of the Railway Board) to fix responsibility on prima facie evidence by end of day," he tweeted.

The train was on its way to the holy town of Haridwar in the northern state of Uttarakhand from the eastern state of Odisha when 13 of its coaches derailed near Muzaffarnagar in Uttar Pradesh Saturday evening.

Conflicting claims from officials indicate that a human error may have been the cause of the accident, with locals also claiming that maintenance work was going on the tracks that railway officials failed to convey to the train's driver.

But this is not the first time that such a fatal accident has taken place. Official statistics reveal over 580 train mishaps, both minor and major, took place in the past five years in India, out of which more than 50 percent occurred due to derailments.

The worst accident occurred on November 20, 2016, when an express train from the central state of Madhya Pradesh to the eastern state of Bihar's capital Patna derailed near Kanpur city in Uttar Pradesh, claiming the lives of 150 people and injuring a similar number.

"A fracture on the railway tracks was said to be the main cause behind that accident. This clearly indicates the need for urgent overhaul of the tracks, which have gone through wear and tear over the years, since being laid," a senior Indian Railways official said.

Used by some 23 million people each day and covering almost every nook and cranny of India, the state-run Indian Railways, one of the largest in the world, is considered the "lifeline of the nation".

"The railways operate more than 12,000 trains. But after decades of neglect and subsidised fares, the train network is in shambles and much of the equipment is out of date," he said.

Despite inflation, rail tickets in India are dirt cheap. A one-way ticket on a long distance train can be purchased for as little as 400 rupees (six U.S. dollars), making it accessible to poorer passengers who cannot afford to travel by other modes of transport.

The Indian Railways also runs schools, hospitals, police forces and building companies and employs a total of 1.3 million people, making it the seventh biggest employer in the world.

But it is ailing due to severe funds crunch. In 2015, Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government pledged to invest 137 billion U.S. dollars in the ageing railway network over the next five years.

"Over the next five years, the railways have to undergo a transformation. We have to make Indian Railways a benchmark organisation in safety, security and infrastructure." the Railway Minister had then said.

"But no improvement is showing on ground. It's time to act fast to revive the ailing railways," said Sukumar Chaubey, a rail safety expert.

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