The state-run Indian Railways are set to deploy camera-equipped drones to closely monitor the vast rail network in order to prevent accidents. The latest step comes after a tragic year in which hundreds of people died in train derailments.

Drones will not only help in maintenance of tracks but also in crowd control.

"Directions have been given to zonal railways to procure such cameras. This is in line with railways' desire to use technology to enhance safety and efficiency in train operations," the railways, the world's eight biggest employer with nearly 1.3 million staff, said in a statement.

Spanning the length and breadth of the massive country, the rail network comprises close to 120,000km of tracks – the fourth largest network in the world. It carries more than 8.1 billion passengers a year, 22 million travellers a day. It is also one of most affordable modes of travel for millions.

Recently, there has been a sharp increase in train accidents. Official figures show over 580 train accidents, more than half of them derailments, have taken place in the past five years. With millions of passengers relying heavily on the train network, the service is struggling to deal with poor maintenance, low investments and over-crowding.

"Since the railways have concentrated on modernisation for safety and security reasons, utilisation of drone cameras will be very fruitful. The plan will be implemented after completing formalities. It's mainly for security-related things," said Eastern Railway chief public relations officer Ravi Mahapatra.

Some sections of the railways have already procured unmanned aerial vehicles and trial runs have been conducted. The UAVs will also be helpful in undertaking relief measures during emergency situations, hope authorities.

India train derailment Uttar Pradesh
Local residents gather next to train carriages after an express train derailed near the town of Khatauli in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh on August 19, 2017 AFP/Getty Images