At least 30 people are feared dead and up to 150 more injured after four bogies of the Dehradun-Varanasi Janata Express derailed at Bacchrawan in Uttar Pradesh's Rae Bareli district at 9 am on Friday. The state government has already announced compensation for those killed and injured. Cabinet ministers are expected to visit the spot and will surely follow this up by promising an investigation into the cause of the derailment. All of this is perfunctory stuff, and seems depressingly routine thanks to India's massive railway network, on which accidents seem all too commonplace.

Indeed, the number of casualties and those injured on Indian Railways has not been significantly dented over the last decade. The graph below excludes what authorities call casualties sustained as a result of passengers' own negligence, such as travelling on footboards or crossing tracks, which actually end up killing upwards of 15,000 people per year according to a safety panel in 2012. Excluding these, as well as cases of sabotage, still doesn't result in a trend suggesting safety is getting better on the Indian Railways.


Average numbers also don't suggest anything has improved. The Railways maintains a metric of casualties per millions of passengers, to give a sense of how prevalent accidents are on its network. Although this is an attempt to show that the absolute numbers aren't as high as they seem, because of the enormous size of the Indian Railways, viewing the number over time suggests things haven't exactly been improving.

This would come as no solace on the day that the Janata Express derailed in UP, but there is one exception to the lack of improvement across railways in general: derailments. While the other numbers have remained about the same, the Railways records suggests that the number of derailed trains is getting fewer every year. Overall accident numbers are also down, but the derailment figures in particularly are striking. From 280 derailments recorded in 2001, there were only around 50 derailed trains over the last two years.

Instead, the casualties and injuries are coming from elsewhere: train collisions, collisions with road vehicles at unmanned level crossings and fires on trains. In addition, of course, fewer derailments doesn't necessarily mean casualties numbers would automatically come down, at least on a year-to-year basis. A single accident, like the one in UP on Friday, could have still push up the casualty count even if the number of derailments in general are coming down every year. 

Rail Minister Suresh Prabhu acknowledged in his rail budget speech earlier this year that more can still be done to combat derailments, promising that the government would look to bring in better technology that would make such accidents less likely.  "To curb derailments, modern track structure consisting of sleepers and heavier rails are being used while carrying out primary track renewals," he said. "Better welding techniques would also be promoted. Further, analogue machines for testing of rails are being replaced with digital type machines, which are more reliable."