ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Off the Rails

Safety is being compromised in favour of cosmetic measures on Indian railways.

For the first time in nearly 92 years, the rail budget will be part of the general budget this year. Much attention will be focused on the allocations for rail safety considering the three train derailments in quick succession in the last two months. On 10 November 2016, the Indore–Patna Express went off the tracks killing 150 people and injuring over 200; on 26 December 2016, the Sealdah–Ajmer Express slipped off the rails injuring 43 passengers; and on 21 January the Hirakhand Express derailed near Kuneri in Andhra Pradesh leading to 41 deaths (the toll continues to rise) and injuries to several passengers. The announcement of an inquiry into the causes of the latest accident was greeted with grim cynicism, black humour even, by the public and the media. The slight difference in the familiar aftermath this time around were the sabotage theories that were floated with the Maoists and Pakistan’s ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence) being blamed alternately. These theories have, for the time being, been set aside.

If appointment of safety review committees and submission of their reports were the only criteria involved, Indian railways would be the safest in the world. The plethora of reports of inquiries into accidents as well as those by high-level committees, contain recommendations that cover almost every aspect of the railways’ functioning, especially on safety. The crux of the issue, as always, is about implementing these suggestions and finding the financial resources to do so. The Standing Committee on Railways, which gave its report on Safety and Security in Railways in December 2016, has again pointed to key areas that need urgent attention. These include the setting up of a separate department with safety as its sole priority. Underinvestment in railways has led to safety compromises and congested routes. Unmanned level crossings continue to be the biggest cause of casualties; in 2015–16, nearly 84% of accidents were due to derailments. The railways should completely switch to the Linke Hofmann Busch (LHB) coaches that do not witness higher casualties in case of derailments as the coaches do not pile upon each other. More than half of the accidents are due to carelessness of the railway staff, poor maintenance work and adoption of short-cuts. It must be noted here that the railway workers’ unions have for long been complaining of the 1.42 lakh posts for safety lying vacant across the country and that security staff works under tremendous pressure and substandard working conditions.

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Updated On : 27th Jan, 2017

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