The Lac-Megantic disaster of 2013

The Indian Railways are often the butt of jokes when a number of accidents happen in succession. But it is cold comfort to know that railway operating procedures in developed countries are far from perfect. As in the case of the derailment followed by fire at Lac-Megantic in Quebec province on July 6, 2013.

Here is a  Powerpoint presentation on this accident, which was used in a conference of safety engineering at IIT Gandhinagar in January 2017.


Note the videos on slides 8 and 9. They are important in understanding the sequence of events. The one on slide 8 is more accurate and is largely based on the accident investigation report. The one on slide 9 has a serious error as it shows the train slipping backwards, with the tank cars leading the locomotives. In fact the train went down the incline in its existing configuration of locomotives followed by other cars and tank cars.

You may wonder if something like this could happen on the Indian Railways. Certainly a heavy goods train would not be left totally unattended on an incline in mid-section. That is exactly what happened here.

There are a number of safety-related issues which have not been covered above, such as the hazards caused by additives used to increase the viscosity of crude oil for transportation.

For further reading:



Spotlight on train disaster near Pokhrayan

The rail disaster involving the 19231 Indore-Rajendra Nagar (Patna) Express may well be the worst railway accident in India in several years. As I write this, the death toll has crossed 130. Here is the very basic information put out by the concerned zone (North Central Railway):;jsessionid=zWOAqhsYgbGjIRyP0QZvmcOLGPzwD98YlnRGQYOyrPatB-bjyfg1!9620467?id=20161113001

The accident site comes under Jhansi division of NCR whose HQ is at Allahabad. It was earlier on Central Railway.

The location is between Pokhrayan and Malasa stations on the Jhansi-Kanpur section. It would be about 45 km south-west of Kanpur Central station and 175 km north-east of Jhansi. Though not a trunk line, it has heavy passenger traffic with numerous trains from southern and western India to Kanpur, Lucknow and beyond. The site falls in Kanpur Dehat district.

Pokhrayan and Malasa can be seen on the map here:,+Uttar+Pradesh/@26.3286985,80.0379633,11z/data=!4m5!3m4!1s0x399c4770b127c46f:0x1778302a9fbe7b41!8m2!3d26.449923!4d80.3318736

However, it appears that Pukhrayan is the more common spelling of the town.

A list of accidents with a death roll of over 100 since 2000

(This is from memory, so there may be minor inaccuracies):

2002: Near Gaya, 116 killed in wrecking of Howrah-New Delhi Rajdhani.

2005: Near Hyderabad, 116 killed as passenger train plunges into flood waters in Nalgonda district.

2006: 7 bomb blasts on WR locals in Mumbai result is the deaths of at least 186.

2010: Near Kharagpur: 150 killed as a goods train collided with coaches of the Howrah-Mumbai Jnaneshwari Express, which had been derailed due to sabotage.

(It is also noted that some false reports of major disasters in the 2000s have been entered in Wikipedia, with no reference. I will have to clean them up).

Here is the story of the ill-fated train’s trip:


It can be seen that the last scheduled stop was at Orai, about 50 km short of the accident site. The route continues beyond Kanpur via Lucknow, Faizabad, Varanasi and Mughalsarai.

As to causes of the accident-all which can be said at the moment is that there could have been a defect in the tracks, or the loco, or rolling stock, or possibly a combination of these. Apart from tampering with the tracks, rail fractures and fractures of welded joints have been observed as causes of major derailments in recent years.

While there have been a number of incidents of sabotage of tracks in recent years, they have usually been in areas where extremist groups are active. That is not the case here. Apart from extremist sabotage, over the past 50 years there have been at least a couple of cases where disgruntled railway employees have caused major accidents by tampering with tracks.

Cow slaughter on the tracks

While British cattle are larger and heavier than their counterparts in India and other Asian countries, they do not seem to be particularly intelligent, as we see here. Wandering onto a track which is a main route with rated speeds of 225 Km/h is not very smart. Anyway, see this news item from Peterborough in eastern England which refers to an accident on 2 Oct 2016:

Sometimes the cows win, as we see from this accident in 1984 in Scotland where a single cow caused a push-pull diesel express to derail with the death of over a dozen humans:

A picture of the accident site:

As you can see from the above Wikipedia article, this was a significant accident in that it brought out the dangers of push-pull trains with the loco at the rear running into an obstruction. If the loco had been in front the accident and number of casualties would not have been so serious.

India has had its share of relatively minor accidents involving cattle and camels, which have caused some derailments but without major damage or casualties. However, unlike the British railways, IR does have a significant number of larger animals such as lions, tigers and elephants.

Tigers and lions do get run over quite often. The relatively small number of lions in the Gir forest may be able to cope with the slow metre gauge trains in their area. But overcrowding has caused them to disperse to areas further away which have heavy broad gauge goods traffic, notably the line to Pipavav port. The results are predictable.

Elephants have caused accidents in several parts of the country, notably in North Bengal and Assam. The worst such accident was in Jalpaiguri district in 2013 which led to deaths of 7 elephants and injuries to several several others:

No humans were affected in this accident.

However, this accident in 2000 near Dehradun did cause some injuries to humans:

 May 2, 2000

18 injured as 3010 Dn Dehradun-Howrah Doon Express derailed after hitting a herd of elephants at  unmanned crossing between Raiwala and Motichur (near the  latter) on Dehradun-Haridwar section. The engine and 3 coaches were derailed. An elephant was killed.

Update to the Lumding-Silchar line

This is an update to my earlier post of June 25-you may like to have a look at it first:

As things turned out, our optimism was misplaced and the Commissioner of Railway Safety felt that the line was not fit for passenger traffic, although goods trains continued to run.

After all approvals, regular passenger services were formally inaugurated on Nov 21. The only passenger train on this section is a passenger train from Guwahati, which has  SL and unreserved class at the moment. It can be called a fast passenger as it has only one stop between Guwahati and Lumding.

Here are the timetables for these trains:





This also marked the resumption of direct trains between these cities, which had stopped since the early 1990s when the broad gauge reached Lumding. Prior to that there were two express trains, the 11/12 Barak Valley Express and the 201/202 Cachar Express running on this route. In Nov 1983 there were two other passenger trains on this route, one between Lumding and Badarpur and another called the Tripura Passenger, between Lumding and the then railhead at Dharmanagar.

It will be instructive to compare the timings of these trains from the Nov 1983 Bradshaw with the present timings.

Barak Valley TT

The broad gauge conversion and associated realignment (which shortened the route by about 16 km) has resulted in considerable speeding up-13 hours as compared to 17-19 hours in the past. Presumably these trains were hauled by YDM-4s at that time.

More trains can be expected on this route in the near future. Once the connecting lines to Agartala and elsewhere are completed, we can look forward to Rajdhani and Sampark Kranti Expresses as well.



A study of railway accidents in India and some steps being taken to reduce them

This is a slightly modified version of presentations at a conference on industrial safety at IIT Gandhinagar in 2012 and at an IRFCA conference in 2014, which seeks to give the basic facts behind railway safety and the steps being taken to reduce accidents. PPT version:2015-Safety issues on the Indian railways-Problems and Solutions

It is also on pdf: 2015-Safety issues on the Indian railways-Problems and Solutions