In the light of criticism over a spate of accidents last year, modernising the Indian Railways' safety infrastructure was one of the main points of Dinesh Trivedi's budget.
Passenger deaths in train accidents have been reported with alarming regularity. As many as 1,406 accidents were reported in the last nine years, from 2002-03 to 2010-11, causing the death of 988 passengers.
Trivedi announced a substantial hike in allocation - over Rs. 8,000 crore - to upgrade infrastructure. A slew of initiatives to beef up safety measures, including setting up of a railway safety authority and a rail-road grade separation corporation for abolishing all level crossings within the next five years, besides modernising the signaling system, will also come into force.
For modernising the railways' crumbling signalling system with advanced technological features, Rs. 2,002 crore, double the amount allocated last year, has been earmarked. Also, to eliminate chances of collisions, a hi-tech train protection and warning system would be inducted on 3,000 km. It would ensure automatic application of brakes whenever drivers accidentally overshoot the red signal.
As much as Rs. 6,467 crore has been earmarked for upgrading 19,000 km of tracks - which handles 80% of the total traffic - through renewals, replacement and strengthening of 11,250 bridges for running heavier freight trains, and achieving passenger train speed up to 160 km and more.
However, experts say the corresponding allocation is not enough to meet its safety requirements. "The railway minister's approach is right, but more needs to be done," said SK Vij, former member (Engineering), Railway Board.
Trivedi also announced the creation of a new post of member (safety) in the Railway Board to specifically address safety-related aspects. Besides this, over one lakh people would be recruited during 2012-13. Large scale vacancies - many in safety related jobs - is one of the reasons cited for the Railways' poor safety record.