Train accidents: Go in for rail reform now to minimise future tragedies
For long the railways has been a political playground for boosting the careers of ministers. The first thing that’s necessary is to have an approach of minimal interference to make sure that financial resources are not wastededitorials Updated: Nov 21, 2016 23:07 IST
The train accident near Kanpur in the early hours of Sunday has been the worst since the Assam rail disaster in 1999. While it is true that the East Midnapore incident of 2010 had cost around the same number of lives, it was a work of sabotage by Maoists, who had removed fishplates from the railway tracks. The ostensible reason for Sunday’s tragedy was fractures developing in the railway tracks, which also led to coaches piling up, one going on top of the other. The authorities are also checking if the air brakes had failed to act in time. The Indian Railways has a network of more than 64,000 km. About 7,000 commuter trains, 12,000 long-distance trains and 6,000 freight trains run on this network daily, carrying nearly 20 million passengers a day. This alone underscores that the safety of the railway system is as if not more important than many other things such as introducing new trains.
The Indian Railways, on its part in last year’s rail budget, had proposed to invest Rs 1,27,000 crore over 2015-19 in safety work, which includes track renewal. This is apart from more than Rs 1,02,000 crore to be spent on locomotives, coaches, etc. But this is one part of the story. Not all of the recommendations of the Anil Kakodkar committee, appointed about five years ago to enhance railway safety, have been put into effect. For example, the committee had recommended a railway safety authority independent of the Railway Board. The second is increasing the financial powers of some of the railways’ key functionaries such as the divisional railway manager, the general manager of the zonal railways, the director-general of the Research Design and Standards Organisation, etc. The committee had proposed a sum for introducing Automatic Train Protection, a signalling system, on the railway trunk routes to obviate the chances of collisions during fog and other kinds of bad weather conditions. The committee had also suggested creating a Railway Research and Development Council, with another body called the Advanced Railway Research Institute under it, to supervise things such as signalling, rolling stock, telecommunications, tracks and bridges, etc. The heartening part is that rail minister Suresh Prabhu in his budget speech this year said many of the recommendations of various committees were being implemented.
For long the railways has been a political playground for ministers. The first thing that’s necessary is to have an approach of minimal interference to make sure that resources are not wasted in adding trains that harm track maintenance. The second thing to have is an audit of the manner in which assets are procured and maintained. Only then can there be an improvement of the current practices and operating procedures which will result in greater safety standards.