Following a spate of derailments and other accidents, India’s railways minister Mr Suresh Prabhu announced plans last month to seek the assistance of overseas railways as part of IR’s drive to improve operational safety through technological upgrades.

Earlier this month, IR signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Italian State Railways (FS) and a similar agreement with Korean national train operator Korail is also being negotiated.

The pact with Japan includes a cooperation programme in the areas of rail welding, rail inspection, track circuits and automatic inspection technology.

A paucity of funding has led to the deferral of safety-critical works, including maintenance of track and structures. A 2015 IR white paper concedes the backlog in the track renewal programme had reached 4500km.

In his budget speech this year, finance minister Mr Arun Jaitley announced the formation of the Rashtriya Rail Sanraksha Kosh (Rail Safety Fund) with a budget of Rs 1 trillion ($US 16.1bn) over a five-year period.

“The Delhi - Mumbai and the Delhi - Howrah lines - the busiest sections on the Grand Trunk routes – will be taken up first under the technology upgrade plan,” a Railway Board official said. “Global tenders for such programmes will be floated this year and it is being proposed that these should be awarded under the Engineering Procurement and Construction (EPC) model.”