Trains to Tragedy
GovernanceNow|February 1, 2017

Mishaps in the Past Have Mocked the Railways’ Claim of Introducing High-speed Trains With No Concrete Safety Plan in Place.
 

Vishwas Dass

At a time when we are thrilled at the thought of the arrival of hyper loop transportation technology enabling high-speed travel inside a partially vacuum tube and introduction of the bullet trains, our conventional trains and the passenger safety are completely off the track.

The railway ministry is drawing criticism for failing to preventing derailment accidents that took place in the recent past. Three horrific accidents took place in little over two months.On November 20, 2016, the Indore-Patna express derailed near Pukhrayan in Kanpur killing approximately 145 passengers and leaving several injured. The accident prompted railway minister Suresh Prabhu to hold marathon meetings with railway board officials to initiate strict action against lax officials and prevent any reoccurrence. However, barely after one-and-a-half month of the Pukhraya incident, 15 coaches of the Ajmer-Sealdah express came off the tracks and crumpled into one another at Rura, nearly 70 km from Kanpur. This incident further escalated Prabhu’s tension. The latest accident took place on January 21, when the Hirakhand express was derailed in Vizianagaram district of Andrea Pradesh, killing at least 41 people.

The accidents have exposed the railways’ inability to ensure accident free operations. The mishaps triggered a debate over the need of initiating comprehensive safety measures and recruiting adequate staff for the safety wing. The railways which was hogging the limelight for being pro-active on social media addressing to passengers’ grievances and disseminate real-time rail information, is in the news for all the wrong reasons. Such fatal incidents have raised doubts over the railways’ intention of providing fast and safer travel experience.

In a hurriedly called meeting, Prabhu sought the help of experts from South Korea, Italy and France to ascertain reasons behind both the gruesome accidents. Sources said the railway minister did not want to give any chance to the opposition that launched scathing attack on the former for failing to curb major accidents. A team of experts from South Korea met senior railway officials along with railway board members at the Rail Bhavan on January 16 and visited Rura near Kanpur on the next day to assess the reasons behind the fatal mishap. The team would also visit Pukhraya in Kanpur dehat.

In 2011, a high-level safety review committee led by Dr Anil Kakodkar was constituted to go deep into the causes of rail mishaps and bring out safety recommendations to ensure accident-free operations. The committee submitted the report on February 17, 2012. However, the files kept gathering dust till February 2016 when it was finally accepted by the government to implement its suggestions.

The financial implication of the Kakodkar report is ₹20,000 crore annually for five years, i.e., the railways would require at least ₹1.20 lakh crore towards safety recommendations’ implementation for a period of five years.

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