How ?safe? is our rail journey
By Nitin Saxena
The recent disaster on the rail tracks reveals the scant regard the Indian Railways has for the lives of passengers it carries from place to place. The Railway authorities, as usual, are passing the buck from one agency to another, to avoid responsibility. The authorities concerned are also busy in inventing new theories for the rail accident. Whatever be the reason, the passengers in the Indian trains are the worst sufferers as they travel long distances without the basic amenities and minimum safety, keeping total faith on God rather than on the system.
The tragic collision between Sabarmati Express and a goods train occurred near Vadodara in the western division, leaving behind 15 dead and 127 injured. The accident is said to have been caused due to human error. Around 55 per cent of rail accidents are caused by human error and 7 per cent are due to collisions, which result in 46 per cent of casualties. As many as 16 per cent take place at level crossing gates, resulting in 43 per cent of all casualties reported in such accidents. The Indian Railways have decided to resort to modernisation of the Railway signalling and telecommunications systems which require Rs 270 crore for implementation of the project.
Globally-accepted safety-related technologies to minimise collisions and accidents at level-crossing gates include anti-collision device (ACD) and global positioning systems (GPS), which will minimise human intervention in rail operations and reduce the risk of mishaps. A decade ago, Shri H.D. Shourie, father of the consumer movement in India, had filed a public interest petition before the apex court of India, seeking directions against the Indian Railways on lack of adoption of safety measures for the welfare of the travelling public. The Railways have so far not sent a satisfactory reply. The court has taken a serious view of the government'sapathy towards passenger safety and lack of interest in adopting various safety measures recommended by various inquiry commissions. Justice Anand has told the government in clear terms, ?You are under constitutional obligation to provide safety to the passengers and you will not be doing any favour to the citizens in doing so.? Of the total 62,495 kms of track criss-crossing the country, more than 12,260 kms needs to be replaced immediately. This is the main reason for frequently derailment of trains. Three bridges out of every four are more than 70 years old. Even in most of the modern bridges, the speed of trains is restricted, as there are many flaw, and the bridges are unable to withstand the speed.
Another important reason is lack of infrastructure like the signalling system, which is dependent on human beings. The recent accident also highlighted the need to take a fresh look at the whole gamut of safety measures besides the above. Trains like the Shatabadi and Rajdhani Express are the Railways showpieces, which should ensure safety of the public travelling in these trains. The frequent accidents show that the coaches of the fast trains are in no way better than those of ordinary trains. Fast trains need special coaches that can withstand or absorb the high impact of collisions, particularly since the AC coaches, which are fitted with sealed windows, cause suffocation besides inflicting injuries.
Accidents have become a regular feature of the Indian Railways. To tide over the crisis, they could at least maintain a separate cell and expert officers to help the victims with a definite plan of action. Special vans should be stationed at every 100 kms, so that they can rush to the accident spot immediately on hearing the news of the accident, without waiting for the special instructions.
The committee on Railway safety, headed by Justice H.R. Khanna (retd.) in its report observed that the most important element in our Railway system is the human element, and to reduce the human error, the Railway staff needs regular training and upgradation of skills. It is a virtual night mare to travel by trains. The Railways should make public the reports of the inquiry commissions constituted after every accident and inform the public the corrective steps taken by it. Expert committees should be asked to examine the tracks at regular intervals and to suggest measures to rectify the same. Railway authorities should monitor the movement of special trains like the Rajdhani, the Shatabdi and issue necessary directions if there is any missing link, instead of depending upon the lines-man or some daily wager for information. A special surcharge by name of ?safety surcharge? is charged from the passengers. The authorities concerned should educate the consumer public at large on the utilisation of safety surcharge collected religiously from them.