Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Killer trains of South Asia

The transport infrastructure in South Asia is precarious, inadequate, and getting worse over time.  Traffic accidents are rampant.  In the past couple of days alone, three train accidents have killed 35 commuters in India and Pakistan.

The rail infrastructure in South Asia is indeed precarious. Indian railways is marred with a very high accident rate that has caused the death of thousands of commuters over the years. The Indian railways, however claims that its safety record has been improving over the years.

On November 03, 2009, a train ran over six passengers who were trying to cross a railway track in the town of Patudi near New Delhi. Hours earlier (Nov. 03), two trains collided in Karachi, Pakistan, killing 14 commuters.  The accident in Pakistan apparently resulted from driver error.

Source: Dawn, Accident took place in a suburb of Karachi, Pakistan’s most populous city.

Another accident on November 2 in India involved a passenger train that collided with a truck resulting in the death of 14 commuters at an unmanned railway crossing in Uttar Pardesh.

Earlier in October 2009, yet another accident near the Taj Mahal involving  two trains killed 22 commuters. According to the reports, the locomotive of one train ran into a carriage reserved for women and the disabled in the other train.

Source: MSNBC, Accident site near the Taj Mahal in India

Also in October 2009, an overhead under construction bridge collapsed over a train killing two, while injuring numerous others near Mumbai.

While accidents involving trains are rampant in India, Indian railways claims improvement in traffic safety and a decline in accident rates.  The safety adviser to Indian railways, Mr. Kamlesh Gupta, suggested that the number of accidents have declined from 415 in 2001-02 to 177 in 2008-09. 

Year Accidents
2001-02 415
2002-03 351
2003-04 325
2004-05 234
2005-06 195
2006-07 XXX
2007-08 194
2008-09 177

While the decline in accidents may be true, yet the frequency of train accidents is till too high to celebrate success.

According to a report on traffic injury prevention, which was sponsored by World Health Organization and The World Bank, the estimated number of deaths resulting from roadside accidents is around 1.2 million.  Another 50 million individuals are reportedly injured in such accidents.  A large number of those killed or injured in roadside accidents in the developing countries are poor individuals and more likely to be the sole breadwinners for their households. 


Traffic safety is a public health concern in the developing countries.  It is incumbent upon the policy makers in South Asia in particular to assign priority to proving traffic safety because it contributes to poverty and other complications that result from it.

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