You think this weekend’s Chinese train crash was bad? It’s nothing compared to India’s deadly rails.
- By Robert ZeligerRobert Zeliger is News Editor of Foreign Policy.
The fallout from this weekend’s Chinese bullet train crash — in which 39 people died when a train was immobilized after being struck by lightning on a bridge, then rammed by another train from behind, derailing several cars — continued today. The government fired three senior railway officials and is reviewing safety on the country’s four-year-old high-speed rail system. While there was justifiable anger at Chinese officials for trying to keep details of the accident out of the public, China’s rail safety is far better than that of its fellow emerging economy — India.
Journalist Lloyd Lofthouse, compared the numbers going back to 2007 for India, China, and the United States. He found that out of the 177 rail accidents during that period, 20 percent of them actually occurred in the United States, 15 percent occurred in India, and only 4 percent occurred in China. But the death toll in India was far greater.
In the period Lofthouse reviewed, 66 people were killed in U.S. train accidents, about 141 in Chinese accidents, and “hundreds” in Indian rail accidents.
Last year alone, there were at least 17 crashes in India. And, in the past month, three incidents killed more than 100 people. According to Bloomberg News:
In the early hours of July 7, 38 people were killed and at least as many injured when a train collided with a bus carrying members of a wedding party at an unmanned level crossing in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh. Then, on July 10, at least 68 people were killed and more than 250 injured when 15 bogies of the Howrah-Kalka Mail careered off the tracks, again in Uttar Pradesh, while the train was travelling at more than 60 miles per hour. That evening, six coaches of the Guwahati-Puri Express derailed in Assam after a bomb was set off on the tracks, injuring more than 100 people.
India has one of the largest railway system in the world, carrying about 19 million passengers every day on about 7,000 trains. It’s called the “lifeline to the nation.” Unfortunately, that often means trains are jam packed.
Given the spate of recent crashes, anger has mounted against the government-run system. Newspapers have editorialized about the system’s persistent safety failures and “systemic decay.”
The Deccan Chronicle, an Indian paper, said the increasingly accident-prone system could be blamed on the addition of “more trains on nearly every route, mainly to suit the whims or political compulsions of railway ministers, and raising their speed without commensurate upgrading of tracks and other equipment needed to bear the extra load.” The Times of India wrote that the railway authority “failed to meet targets it had set for itself in the corporate safety plan … indicating the low priority it gave to passenger safety.” According to the Indian Express, “There is a real danger that the frequency of train accidents in India might soon desensitize people as ‘yet another’ instance of what has become thoughtlessly, mind-numbingly commonplace.”
Part of the problem is politicians have tried to keep fares as low as possible to keep voters happy, which has turned the system into a “financial disaster,” according to the Indian Express, meaning trains are old and not properly cared for — a deadly combination.