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Home / Analysis / Indian Railways has never been safer. What next | Opinion

Indian Railways has never been safer. What next | Opinion

The aim is to have zero accidents with robust safety systems in place. But accidents do happen, fewer than in the past.

analysis Updated: Jun 13, 2020 11:21 IST
Arunendra Kumar
Arunendra Kumar
A passenger wearing PPE kit seen inside a Rajdhani Express train bound to Chennai from New Delhi amid Covid-19 lockdown
A passenger wearing PPE kit seen inside a Rajdhani Express train bound to Chennai from New Delhi amid Covid-19 lockdown(Raj K Raj/HT PHOTO)

If the number of deaths on tracks is a measure of safety performance of Indian Railways (IR), the performance in 2019-20 is truly commendable. In 2014-15, 292 people were killed in railway accidents. This figure drops to 5 in 2019-20. Overall too, the number of accidents have come down from 135 in 2014-15 to 55 in 2019-20. This is a standing ovation to the sincere and long-drawn safety measures executed intelligently. And there is more. There were no casualties at Unmanned level crossings (UMLC) in 2019-20, a sharp contrast to 2014-15 when 130 people were killed. The elimination of UMLCs has led to visible dividends. It couldn’t have been better, the best so far since 1853 when Railways started in India. Now what next?

The aim is to have zero accidents with robust safety systems in place. But accidents do happen, fewer than in the past. In 2019-20, derailments constituted a significant proportion - as many as 40 out of 55 accidents. The Linke Hofmann Busch (LHB) design of coaches has reduced fatalities during derailments but the railways certainly need to bring down cases of derailments in the first place. A safe rail wheel interaction at normal and high speeds, ensuring copybook rail maintenance parameters as also of coaches undergear should now be the focus of a realizable dream. Infusion of track machines in a big way would provide a much wanted fillip to reliable, quicker track maintenance. Another step would be to eliminate manned level crossings (MLC). This can now receive priority as UMLCs are now almost eliminated. Of course, getting rid of the MLCs is expensive and needs joint action with state governments but it’s time that MLCs are also targeted.

But what remains a cause for continuing worry is the high contribution of “Failure of Railway staff “ as a prominent cause of accidents. As many as 40 out of 55 accidents in 2019-20 fall in this category. To be sure, this is a vast improvement over the 135 accidents classified under this category in 2014-15. Continuous training for skill upgradation and efforts to match the requirements of new technology will continue to occupy the attention of railway brass across departments.

It is also time to take a hard call on deaths that happen because our trains do not require the doors of coaches to be shut before the train starts. Among the world’s major railways, it is only on Indian Railways that a train can start without closing and locking the door. But there is technology available to close this chronic lacunae and it isn’t too expensive. It will have a positive spinoff for passenger security on trains. The Tejas experiment is a welcome step in ensuring door closing before starting a train and needs to be carried forward. Air Conditioned trains are ideal to start with.

Yet another effort should be to fence the tracks, especially in congested areas. Habitation near tracks is hazardous and reducing the speed of passing trains is at best, a temporary solution. If need be, people living too close to the tracks should be given alternate accommodation where feasible. It is difficult to fathom the distance of an approaching train when it is close to approach especially at night. Lives can be saved here.

The strategy adopted by the current leadership of funding the safety efforts through Rail Suraksha Kosh seems to be working well. Once the funds are in place, safety enhancement is a matter of attitude and patience. The past performance indicators seem to reassure that the railways, under PM Modi’s leadership, are on the right track.

(Arunendra Kumar is a former chairman of the Railway Board)

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