NEW DELHI • Deaths and injuries from train collisions or derailment in India more than halved to 254 people last fiscal year from a year ago, data shows, amid attempts to improve the rail network's shoddy safety record through mega investments and recruitment.
The state-run Indian Railways shared the data days after an incident in which the brakes on a 22-coach train carrying hundreds of passengers failed, letting it run freely in reverse for about 13km.
The company has suspended several officials since the incident, and its chairman acknowledged that turning around the culture and image of a government behemoth that employs 1.3 million people and runs around 22,000 trains daily was going to take time, despite the safety improvement in 2017/18.
The number of deaths and injuries in the last fiscal year ending March 31 was the lowest in at least 18 years for which data was provided.
The worst was in 2002/03, when 1,400 people were killed or injured. The figure in 2016/17 was 607, the data shows.
"Safety is an end result. We need to focus on maintenance, and that also includes looking after the people," Mr Ashwani Lohani, who was brought in to helm the department last August after a spate of accidents led to a top-level shake-up, said on Monday.
Number of people who were killed or injured in from train collisions or derailment in India in 2002/03.
"We have a tremendous inherent strength of our people... But I don't have a magic wand."
The railway system is in the midst of a US$130 billion (S$170 billion), five-year modernisation plan and is recruiting nearly 90,000 people over the next few months to mainly fill positions left vacant by retirees.
Mr Lohani said the world's fourth-biggest rail network was trying to make it easier for all levels of employees to approach top officials via WhatsApp or other media so that grievances can be addressed immediately and human error can be minimised.
"It is essential that the focus on safety must not be lost," Mr Lohani said in a recent post on a company WhatsApp group. "We are a 24x7 organisation and must be alert all the times."
He also said Indian Railways was considering bringing in local private companies to run new tourist trains and be involved in overhauling of some stations.
The company already has joint ventures with Alstom of France and US-based General Electric for locomotive supply and maintenance.