Rail accidents have emerged as a regular phenomenon in the recent past. They make headlines for a while; an enquiry is issued followed by payment of compensations. The accidents are then forgotten until another tragedy strikes. It appears that tragic railway tales are on the repeat mode in the country.
It is not just the safety of skies that bother us; we are also concerned about the security of our railway which is the lifeline of many people in the country. The rail network in India is one of the most convenient modes of long-distance travel in India. However, safety of the railway network remains a great concern. Therefore, the increasing number of train accidents calls for introspection.
Indian Railways is the largest public sector undertaking and one of the world’s largest employers with about two lakh employees. But it has failed miserably when it comes to passenger safety and security. The network cannot be compared with the international standards. They are in a poor light when compared with railway networks of the western countries, which usually have clean records of safety.
Accidents have been alarmingly common in the Indian rail network, in which about 20 million people ride on a daily basis. Most accidents are blamed on human error and mechanical failure. Often there is a conflict on shared expenditure between the Centre and the State over construction of railway infrastructure; as a result, improvements take a backseat. It is also said that there is lack of funds which does not allow for the upgrading needed in the safety standards.
Sabotage by militant groups is on the rise, heaving serious concern about casualties. Safety and security of bridges is also of a concern; especially now as Kashmir is coming up with the world’s highest railway bridge while the world’s tallest bridge is being built in the insurgency-hit Manipur. Trains like Rajdhani or Shatabdi are not managed well but there already are talks of bullet trains coming up in the country. With the already existing difficulty in providing escort to passengers of the currently-functioning trains, we shall see how the safety issues of bullet trains will be dealt with.
Nepotism and favouritism in granting railway contracts or employment of personnel are common. While there are construction delays and failures, there is lack of professionalism and corruption-associated contracts are rampant, which leads to drop in maintenance standards and eventually causes derailments.
The current metro system in metropolitans is functioning quite well with minimal accidents. Introducing a system on the lines of city metros can be considered. Modern technologies and devices should be introduced like increasing the deployment of railway safety personnel at the station.
Rather than politicizing issues when problems arise, the government should instead examine various important details like speed limits, signals, communication links, and condition of coaches and tracks.
Despite increase in passenger traffic and freight traffic, the number of railway employees is said to have gone down in the recent times. As far as human error is concerned, there should be improved process of staffing. More attention needs to be given in case of staff shortage. Less staff leads to work overload and hence, negligence.
There should be an increase in the expenditure on maintenance and safety measures. It is said that the most number of deaths take place at unmanned crossings. Safety precautions should be taken through sign boards, signals and basic traffic safety rules at unmanned crossings with proper fencing, flyovers and overpass bridges. Steps should be taken to implement recommendations of Anil Kakodkar Committee at the earliest.
Every Railway Minister gives the assurance that he will make efforts to ensure safety of the railway but to no avail. The new railway minister D. V. Sadananda Gowda has said that safety is the top most priority and we can do nothing but hope that he has something fruitful to offer to the Indian railway network.
We must understand that every life is precious. Accidents are inevitable but loss of human lives cannot be overlooked. When there is regular recurrence of accidents, minor or major, it requires serious introspection.
Valentina Telien Kom
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