NEW DELHI • India will replace its old railway coaches with high-tech German-built ones after nearly 200 people were killed in disasters on the network in the past two months.
Thirty-nine people died when a train derailed on Saturday night in southern Andhra Pradesh state, exactly two months after 146 people were killed in a similar disaster near the northern city of Kanpur.
The state-run network, one of the world's largest, was also hit by several smaller incidents during the same period, including another crash near Kanpur on Dec 28 in which two people were killed.
The deadly crashes have renewed concerns about the creaking colonial-era system, which experts say is suffering from chronic under-investment and poor safety standards despite being a lifeline for millions.
A spokesman for Indian Railways said yesterday that the government was looking to phase out the old conventional coaches, designed by the Integral Coach Factory (ICF) in Chennai, by 2018-19.
"There will be zero production of the old ICF-designed coaches. They will be replaced by Linke Hofmann Busch (LHB) coaches by 2018-19," Mr Anil Kumar Saxena said. "The problem is not in replacing but about what to do with the existing fleet. We are looking at ways, we will find a solution soon."
The German-made LHB coaches are equipped with "anti-telescopic" technology which prevents coaches from crumpling and piling on top of each other in an accidents, thereby reducing fatalities.
Mr R. N. Malhotra, a former administrative head of Indian Railways, said an overhaul was long overdue but warned that relying just on new coaches would not solve the myriad issues dogging the network.
"The Railways Ministry had sent a proposal last year to the government for the release of safety funds, but the Finance Ministry has not approved it as yet," Mr Malhotra said.
"All these assets - the railway lines, signalling system, coaches and all - have a life. After a certain time they need to be replaced with new ones, but that needs funds."
India's railways form the world's fourth-largest network, carrying about 23 million people every day. The government is due to announce its Budget next week which is likely to include investment plans for the network.