The railways has often been criticised for laying more emphasis on speed than investing in safety measures. Although the number of rail accidents have fallen over the last few years—from 122 in FY13 to 104 in FY17—but it has less to do with the government’s effort to make the national carrier safer. In fact, data from a NITI Aayog study by Bibek Debroy and Kishore Desai shows that derailments increased from 49 in FY13 to 78 in FY17. The only credit to Railways is the sharp reduction in accidents owing to unmanned crossings. Fund crunch was part of the reason for this neglect, but with the finance minister approving the long-standing demand of a Rs 1 lakh crore Rashtriya Rail Sanraksha Kosh (RRSK)—this was based on recommendations of High Powered Committee formed in 2012—things may change. The Debroy-Desai study not only highlights how the Railways can appropriate the funds for RRSK, but also points where and how these funds need to be used.
Given that civil works, derailments and level crossings were the major cause for accidents, the study highlights that these areas should be the first to be targetted. But availability of funds, may not be the only problem, as figures for track renewal and depreciation reserve fund show that not only has the Railways been allocating less to development works, but has also been underscoring on targets.