In its zeal to implement Prime Minister Narendra Modi's pet scheme to increase speed of passenger trains, the Indian Railways is bending the established standards on passenger safety of its Research Designs and Standards Organisation (RDSO).
The guidelines of the RDSO--the research arm of the Indian Railways--say that rail tracks that weigh a minimum of 60 kilograms per meter must "mandatorily" be provided for running trains at speeds of 160 ckmph.
RDSO also sets preconditions for the installation of thick web switches at facing points and the construction of boundary walls at critical locations on nine existing tracks identified for semi-high speeds.
The ministry's infrastructure directorate issued directions to the Western Railways on September 5 to conduct trials on upgrading speed to 160 kmph on tracks that weigh only 52 kilograms per meter, documents available with HT show.
The Railway Board letter makes no mention on the need to install thick web switches and says that "sturdy fencing" can be provided for "depending on the local conditions".
The letter also states that the installation of Train Protection Warning Systems (TPWS) on tracks identified for running semi high speeds "shall not be considered mandatory".
The Railway Board missive is in connection with the proposed semi-high speed plan for the Virar-Ahmedabad section of the Western Railways. In its letter of September 11, the Western Railways has sought several clarifications on the directive.
"Train speeds will have to be gradually raised to 110, 130 and 160 kmph. Alongside, the railways will either have to take measures to upgrade tracks, or will need to request the RDSO to take a re-look their safety norms. Administrative sanction (to semi high speeds) is one thing and ground realities are quite another," Arunendra Kumar, chairman of the Railway Board, told HT.
"It is desirable to run semi-high speeds on 60 kilogram tracks a renewal and life cycle costs are less, but running these trains on 52 kg tracks is not unsafe," said RR Jaruhar, former Railway Board member.