Anger in India over the nation’s underfunded and poorly maintained railway system

According to senior railway officials, the Coromandel Express, a high-speed train that was traveling from Kolkata to Chennai, was diverted onto a loop line and slammed into a heavy goods train idled at Bahanaga Bazar railway station.

Anger is growing in India, now the world’s most populous nation, renewing calls for authorities to confront safety issues in a railway system that transports more than 13 million passengers every day.

India’s extensive rail network is one of the largest in the world and built more than 160 years ago under British colonial rule. Today, it runs about 11,000 trains every day over 67,000 miles of tracks.

For Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who swept to power in 2014 on a promise of future greatness, upgrading the country’s transport system has been a key priority in his push to create a $5 trillion economy by 2025.

In the fiscal year that started in April, Modi’s government raised capital spending on airports, road and highway construction and other infrastructure projects to $122 billion, or 1.7% of India’s GDP. But years of neglect has left many tracks to deteriorate.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits the site of a train crash on June 3.

A report last year by India’s auditor general, an independent office, found the amount spent on track maintenance is falling. “Due to financial constraints, the progress in track renewals is constantly coming down over the last six years,” the report said.

Decaying infrastructure is often cited as a cause for traffic delays and numerous train accidents in India. And though government statistics show that accidents and derailments have declined in recent years, they are still tragically common.

More than 16,000 people were killed in nearly 18,000 railway accidents across the country in 2021, according to latest figures from the National Crime Records Bureau. Nearly 70% were due to falls from trains and collisions between trains and people on the track.

In 2005, at least 102 people died when a passenger train derailed in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh as it tried to cross tracks washed away by a flood. In 2011, scores were killed when a train jumped tracks in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh.

In another infamous incident in 2016, more than 140 people were killed in another derailment in Uttar Pradesh.

Railways Minister Vaishnaw said authorities have asked the Central Bureau of Investigation, India’s top investigation agency, to probe Friday’s crash.

Authorities have announced compensation of about $1,200 to families who have lost loved ones.

But as teams continue to investigate the cause, no amount of money could make up for the devastating loss of life.

As Kumar, whose friend died in the crash, recalled the horror of Friday’s accident, he reflected on how lucky he was to survive.

“I am blessed to have another chance at life,” he said.