In the months preceding India’s worst train crash in decades, the agency that runs the country’s rail system was short hundreds of thousands of workers, including many in the safety division.
A January report in The Hindu found that the Indian Railways was “reeling under a crushing staff shortage,” with 312,000 non-administrative positions lying vacant across the country as of last December.
A three-train collision on Friday in the eastern Indian state of Odisha has killed nearly 300 people and injured thousands. As the investigation continues, officials have pointed to an electronic signal system error as a possible reason for the crash.
Meanwhile, politicians are seeking answers from the government about issues that led to the crash, including the high number of job vacancies at the rail agency, which has over 1 million employees.
In the agency’s East Coast zone, where the crash happened, over 8,000 posts are vacant, according to a letter the leader of India’s opposition party sent to Prime Minister Narendra Modi after the crash. Members of the party have called for the resignation of the country’s rail minister.
In another zone, almost half of the job vacancies are safety-related positions.
Just last week, before the crash, the head of the Railway Board, which oversees the rail agency, called for more urgent steps to fill job vacancies following an uptick in accidents.
A railway official told The Hindu that the board "also directed general managers to critically analyse the long working hours of crew, especially in East Coast Railway ... and take corrective action urgently."