A railway employee dies in the line of duty on four days out of five, making his job statistically far more dangerous than that of security forces in some of India’s most violent combat zones.
An average 300 railwaymen have been killed in accidents every year over the past 4-5 years, S K Jain, Member (Engineering) of the Railway Board, told The Indian Express. Most of them were run over by trains as they patrolled the tracks to ensure there were no fractures in the rails, a major reason for derailments.
While the railwaymen work at all times, in the scorching sun or pouring rain, the number of deaths has spiked at night and in winter, when they use flashlights to look for cracks.
A total 285 railwaymen were killed in accidents in 2012, nearly eight times the number of personnel (37) that the CRPF lost fighting leftwing extremism. In addition, 800 railwaymen were injured while physically monitoring 1 lakh kilometres of tracks in the country.
“Until a few years ago, over 400 people were being killed on average every year. We have been able to bring the number down, but it is still unacceptably high. A technological solution is needed,” Jain said.
The Railways has now reached out for a track-inspection technique patented by the South African Navy, which it hopes will help it do away with the century-old system of physically walking down the tracks.
The technology, called Railsonic, involves the release of an ultrasonic wave along the rails every 10 minutes, the receipt of which by a receiver at the other end confirms the absence of fractures.
The technology will be tried out on a 25-km stretch of the Konkan Railway. It will cost Rs 5 lakh per kilometre, and can be deployed fairly soon, officials said.
“Some years even 500 people have died doing this job. We have been asking the Railways for some kind of technological solution,” Shiv Gopal Mishra, general secretary of the All India Railwaymen’s Federation, the largest union in the Indian Railways, said. “Visibility is a problem and in north India, the problem is compounded by the fog in winter,” Mishra said.
A few years ago, under pressure from the unions, the Railways doubled the compensation for death to Rs 10 lakh.