Sunday, May 11, 2014

Welding failure behind spike in rail accidents


Welding failure behind spike in rail accidents
The packed 50105 Diva-Sawantwadi passenger train was halfway out of a tunnel when the engine and four coaches derailed between Nagothane and Roha stations
Officials say welded tracks either cool or heat up too fast thus not setting property; the last 12 months saw 153 fractures in Central Railway and 103 in Western Railway.

Central Railway General Manager Sunil Kumar Sood on Tuesday attributed the likely cause of the derailment near Nagothane on Sunday morning to "weld fracture", even as the Commissioner of Railway Safety Chetan Bakshi is yet to begin an inquiry into the incident.

The packed 50105 Diva-Sawantwadi passenger train was halfway out of a tunnel when the engine and four coaches derailed between Nagothane and Roha stations, 136 km from Mumbai, killing 22 passengers and injuring over 150.

Sood, however, made it clear that while preliminary investigations point to weld fracture, the exact cause will be determined only after the matter is probed.

"There are several reasons why weld failures occur," Sood said. "The welded tracks either cool too fast thereby not setting properly, or due to the welding the tracks heat up too fast. Over a period, with the passage of trains, this results in weld fractures at the weakest point of the track. The common method of detecting such fractures are by employing a keyman who walks along the tracks with tools to fix them."

Regarding the particular stretch where Sunday's accident occurred, Sood said, "We had conducted an ultra-sonic machine test on the affected track recently, but had not found any fault with it. There was also no problem with the method in which the tracks had been welded at the spot. Hence, how and why the accident happened will be clear only after the investigation is complete," Sood said.

A weld fracture takes place when the welding wears off due to various reasons. However, studies show that the number of such cases on Central Railway have increased alarmingly over the past year, while those on Western Railway have declined.

According to the latest statistics compiled by the research wing of Indian Railways, Central Railway figures for weld fractures have risen to 153 for the period 2013-2014, while the figure was 129 for 2012-13.

In comparison, weld fractures on Western Railway have gone down to 103 in 2013-14 from 138 in 2012-13.

A source who requested anonymity, however, say that it is not just weld fractures and track fractures that contribute to accidents, but the overall failure of maintenance and monitoring.

In the last one week itself there have been several mishaps, the source said, including three people dying after a speeding train collided with a tractor at an unmonitored level crossing near Pune, an electric pole that leaned over due to soil corrosion, narrowly missing a passing suburban train between Turbhe and Sanpada, and three unexplained minor fires breaking out in coaches of three trains — Deccan Queen, Sayhadri Express and Mumbai-Howrah Mail — awaiting departure from platforms 8, 9 and 15 at CST within a span of just 67 minutes on April 30. "Even on the day of the Diva-Sawantwadi train derailment, minor fires were reported in toilets of four coaches of the Sewagram Express at Mumbai CST," he said. "It is definitely about maintenance and monitoring."

"Last month too there were mishaps due to poor maintenance of local trains and coaches," said Subhash Gupta, member of the Railway Users Consultative Committee, the official passenger complaint redressal body. The Railways are supposed to be a safe and affordable mode of transport, but if things continue like this, there will be a big question mark on passenger safety."

"There is need for the general manager to take charge and enforce discipline in the system before it collapses completely," Gupta further said. "Accidents seem to be happening every day and the administration is reacting to them individually. There is need for a bigger vision."

Meanwhile, Sood said that he will review the track inspection system and intensify it by employing more people to patrol tracks from both ends so that more distance is covered by physical inspection. "We will work out a mechanism to improve patrolling on tracks," he said.

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