What is to be done?
The tragic derailment of Jagdalpur-Bhubaneswar Express near Vizianagaram is a grim reminder of alarming state of rail safety in India even as the rulers dream of running bullet trains.
The tragic derailment of Jagdalpur-Bhubaneswar Express near Vizianagaram is a grim reminder of alarming state of rail safety in India even as the rulers dream of running bullet trains. Voluminous literature is available on ensuring safe rail journey. But, half-hearted commitment to safety continues to haunt Indian Railways.
The reasons for accidents include continuing use of overage locomotives, incomplete safety works at level crossings, lack of modernisation of signaling equipment, inadequate maintenance of assets and a failure to recruit crucial staff in positions dealing with safety, etc. Its better authorities soon realise that technology alone can't be the solution. There should a mechanism for the frequent check-up of railway tracks, recruit gangmen who can manually inspect the railway's tracks and regular safety audits.
Even the Parliamentary Standing Committee expressed its reservations on the existing safety system in IR. As recommended by the committee, safety infrastructure should be recast to include at least a separate or full fledged department solely entrusted with providing safety and security.
Resource crunch hits the process of installing security devices like track circuiting, renewal of over-aged assets.
Under-investment in rail sector has resulted in severe congestion on over saturated routes, affecting the speed of trains and causing accidents. Running too many trains on certain busy routes, leaving no time for manual inspection of track is compromising safety. The practice of driving the train fast in the night to make up for delay should be discontinued.
Railways need to speed up replacement of old bogies with German Linke Hofmann Busch (LHB) coach with advanced safety features. The LHB coaches, equipped with advanced couplers and anti-climbing features, prevent capsizing of coaches in case of an accident. The LHB coaches and fitment of tight lock Centre Buffer Couplers (CBC) prevent coaches from climbing over each other in an unfortunate event of an accident.
Railways should switch over to the LHB coaches replacing the conventional coaches in a time bound manner and in the meantime work on attaching CBC to the existing old coaches. This helps to minimise damage and reduce the loss of lives. Even the high-level Safety Review Committee (Kakodkar Committee) appointed by the Ministry of Railways in 2012 observed “Within the railway system everybody is supposed to look after safety but in reality… (it is) nobody’s baby.”
The CAG report of 2012 indicted the Indian Railways for its inability to produce a reliable safety system. It's easy to float a sabotage theory. Instead an honest reappraisal of safety efforts is the need of the hour. Derailments account for most of the rail accidents, yet, while ideally 4500 km of track should be renewed annually, currently only 2700 km of track length have been targeted for renewal.
Physical and financial targets in regard to track renewals should be enhanced as per the annual requirements for track renewals. Adherence to safety is an ongoing and continuous process and is a multi disciplinary effort. The inter department differences and intra department prioritisation should not be allowed to derail safety issues. Safety is non-negotiable. Prompt, precise, diligent and comprehensive action is needed.