The railways are dealing with safety functions on an ad hoc basis
Trains are running in spite of safety questions having been raised. This is a structural problem and must be addressed at the highest levels.editorials Updated: Jul 31, 2017 14:39 IST
Two lessons can be drawn from the “Tejas” affair. One: Never trust the Indian Railways to deliver what they promise. Second: However much things change for the state-owned transporter, they will remain much the same.
Countering the objections of the office from the Commissioner of Railway Safety (CRS) that the Tejas Express – a new train launched this May with a traction power of 130 kilometres per hour – was being operated without safety clearance, the railways have come up with a fantastic argument: “Since CRS certification for running trains on the track at a top speed of 110 kmph had already been obtained in the past, the need for a fresh certification for Tejas was not required, as none of the advanced features of the train were being used”.
The railways are both right and wrong in taking the position. Wrong, because policy circular number 6 of the railway ministry and section 27 of the Railways Act of 1984 mandates a clearance from the CRS before operating a new rolling stock (train) or increasing speeds on any track. And right, because chapter 4 of the Railways Act empowers the railway board to overrule the observations of the CRS.
Last April, the “Gatimaan” – publicised as India’s fastest train with a top speed of 160 kmph – started operations on the Delhi-Agra route after “partial clearance” from the CRS. Since the mandated preconditions laid out in the CRS report have not been met, the railways today operates the train at a slower speed of 130 kmph. Following Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the north-eastern states in November 2014, the railways hurriedly announced the start of operations on certain tracks; one of these in violation to the recommendations of the zonal CRS. A couple of accidents happened on the route and operations have had to be suspended for several months.
Most of the problems are structural. Although the CRS operates under the ministry of civil aviation, the office remains obliged to the railways ministry – which provides for its office, stationary, staff and transport expenses. Committees of experts including those headed by Sam Pitroda and Anil Kakodkar have recommended the delinking of safety functions from the railways by providing for an independent safety organisation with statutory powers. Until this happens, Tejas-type glitches are likely to get replicated. And the rail passenger will continue to be deprived of what she is paying for.