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Passenger safety low on railways agenda

india Updated: Jun 25, 2014 23:32 IST
Srinand Jha
Rajdhani derailment

Two train accidents within a few hours — including the derailment of the premier Rajdhani that accounted for four passenger deaths near Chhapra in Bihar — has provoked another round of the all-too-familiar blame game between different ministries, the Centre and the state.

Sixty km from the Rajdhani derailment site, a goods train also derailed following a reported blast, when 18 of its wagons fell off the tracks.

The railways suspects ‘sabotage’ for the Rajdhani accident that also caused injuries to many passengers, while the ministry of home affairs (MHA) has cautioned against rushing to such hasty conclusions. The Bihar government, meanwhile, totally ruled out the sabotage theory.

Railway ministers in the past have uniformly emphasised upon the need to accord highest priority to ensure passenger safety, but the public transporter’s record on this count has gone down alarmingly.

Official records show that as many as 2,331 passengers have been killed in the 1,522 train accidents in the last 10 years. In the three-month period from April 1 this year to June 25, 47 accidents including 35 involving passenger trains have happened, as against 27 accidents during the same period last year.

As he prepares to present his first budget in parliament next month, railway minister DV Sadananda Gowda faces the huge challenge of taking a call on long-pending issues concerning passenger security — such as setting up of an autonomous safety review committee, recommended by the Anil Kakodkar-committee.

Contrary to the situation in other forms of transport, the office of the chief commissioner of railway safety (CCRS) is not truly an autonomous body, as Chapter 5 of the Railway Act of 1989 provides authority to the zonal general managers and railway board members to overwrite or reject the findings of the CCRS.

Different directorates such as the mechanical or electrical departments have separate safety cells and these units are often seen to be working at cross purposes. Attempts to look for technological solutions to prevent collisions — such as the plan to introduce the European Train Control Systems — have also been in the lurch.