Will rail­way Board wake up from slum­ber?

Governance Now - - RAIL SECURITY - Vish­was Dass

The de­rail­ment of the Puri­harid­war utkal ex­press on Au­gust 19 at Khatauli in Ut­tar Pradesh which killed 23 peo­ple has raised se­ri­ous ques­tions on the func­tion­ing of the rail­way board.

a num­ber of de­rail­ments in re­cent months in­di­cate that there is some­thing se­ri­ously wrong with the board which has failed to put pres­sure on the gen­eral managers (GMS) and the di­vi­sional rail­way managers (DRMS) to im­prove day-to-day op­er­a­tions, es­pe­cially those re­lated to safety.

The rail­way board which looks af­ter poli­cies as well as op­er­ates and reg­u­lates the rail­ways has so far not taken any ex­tra­or­di­nary mea­sures on safety and sav­ing lives.

The rai­ly­way board that com­prises six mem­bers - each one look­ing af­ter a spe­cific area like traf­fic, trac­tion, per­son­nel, fi­nance etc - has no mem­ber to look af­ter the is­sues of safety. The

A se­ries of de­rail­ments un­der­lines the ur­gent need to over­haul the top de­ci­sion-mak­ing body which is yet to de­vise a com­pre­hen­sive strat­egy to en­sure pas­sen­ger safety

rail­ways high­ups be­lieve that no sin­gle mem­ber is re­quired to be de­tailed for safety as it’s the col­lec­tive re­spon­si­bil­ity of the board.

The track record of in­dian rail­ways dur­ing past three years has been pretty bad: over 300 pas­sen­gers died in 200 de­rail­ments in three years. This in­cludes 145 dead in de­rail­ment at Pukhrayan in ut­tar Pradesh. Yet noth­ing changed in the rail­ways in­clud­ing the seem­ingly poor safety stan­dards. The rail­way board failed to adopt mod­ern tech­nol­ogy, boost LHB coach pro­duc­tion and un­veil a com­pre­hen­sive safety strat­egy.

one of the key rea­sons for in­ac­tion on safety, as some top level sources in the min­istry al­leged, is the continuing tus­sel among the mem­bers of the rail­way board on the is­sue of blocks. (‘Block’ is a rail­way term for stop­ping train move­ment on a par­tic­u­lar sec­tion, that is, a stretch of tracks for a pe­riod rang­ing from half an hour to a few

hours to carry out main­te­nance and re­pair works.)

Since blocks af­fect punc­tu­al­ity (trains are halted at the nearby sta­tion for a while) and erode the rev­enue as well, the traf­fic de­part­ment of­ten de­lays per­mis­sion to the en­gi­neer­ing staff to carry out main­te­nance work. But due to in­creas­ing load on the ex­ist­ing rail in­fras­truc­ture, rou­tine and emer­gency blocks are needed more of­ten to make sure trains do not de­rail.

Of­fi­cials ad­mit­ted, in pri­vate, that all was not well be­tween the board mem­ber (en­gi­neer­ing) and the mem­ber (traf­fic) over the is­sue of blocks. The board is also not mak­ing ef­forts to make Gms more ac­count­able.

The utkal ex­press de­rail­ment is the sec­ond big­gest ac­ci­dent of the year, af­ter the Jag­dalpur–bhubaneswar Hi­rak­hand ex­press de­rail­ment in Viziana­garam on Jan­uary 21 that left 41 per­sons dead.

af­ter fac­ing crit­i­cism from the

me­dia, the then rail­way min­is­ter Suresh Prabhu cracked the whip; he sent on leave the mem­ber (en­gi­neer­ing), Aditya Ku­mar Mit­tal, and two other se­nior of­fi­cials – the north­ern rail­way gen­eral man­ager (GM) and Delhi di­vi­sional rail­way man­ager (DRM). mit­tal had to leave at a bit­ter note since he was due to re­tire just a week later.

It was per­haps for the first time when a sec­re­tary-level of­fi­cer was asked to go on leave. (The two other of­fi­cials re­turned to their job in Septem­ber.)

Some be­lieve mit­tal was made scape­goat in the utkal ex­press de­rail­ment case while the traf­fic wing did not even have to face the mu­sic from Prabhu.

Shiv Gopal mishra, gen­eral sec­re­tary, all in­dia rail­way­men’s fed­er­a­tion, which is con­sid­ered the rail­ways’ big­gest em­ploy­ees union, told Gov­er­nance now that when­ever an ac­ci­dent takes place, board mem­bers, Gms and

other se­nior of­fi­cials start ef­forts to save their skin and pass the buck.

He said the dif­fer­ences among the board mem­bers, Gms and drms on all is­sues in­clud­ing the blocks have per­sisted for many years.

mishra said man­i­fold in­crease in traf­fic has re­sulted in re­duc­tion of blocks since profitability is seen more im­por­tant than safety and main­te­nance. “Op­er­at­ing of­fi­cials in­clud­ing drms think that a max­i­mum num­ber of trains should run in their sec­tions while en­gi­neer­ing staff tries to get reg­u­lar blocks which are not be­ing given due at­ten­tion,” he said.

in his may 24, 2017, let­ter to the rail­way min­is­ter, Mishra had flagged his con­cern over the de­rail­ments. “Rail­ways is not get­ting enough rails as Steel author­ity of In­dia (SAIL) does not have enough ca­pac­ity to sup­ply it,” he said.

Two re­cent de­rail­ments – of the Kaifiyat Ex­press at Au­raiya in UP and the nagpur-mum­bai CST at Vasind near mum­bai in au­gust – fur­ther added to the woes of rail­ways. luck­ily, no­body suf­fered in­jury in these ac­ci­dents. A week later, three trains – two pas­sen­ger and a goods train – de­railed on Septem­ber 7, bring­ing fur­ther em­bar­rass­ment to the board.

How­ever, af­ter the de­rail­ment of the Kaifiyat Ex­press, heads started rolling; the chair­man of the rail­way board, Ashok Ku­mar Mi­tal, an of­fi­cer of the rank of prin­ci­pal sec­re­tary, was

asked to step down. in the same evening, Prabhu of­fered his res­ig­na­tion to prime min­is­ter naren­dra modi.

Ten days later, Piyush Goyal, who was min­is­ter of state for power, coal, new and re­new­able en­ergy and mines, was named the new rail­way min­is­ter while Prabhu was given charge of com­merce.

Of­fi­cials at the helm said the miss­ing bal­ance be­tween ef­forts to in­crease rev­enue and en­sur­ing punc­tu­al­ity of the ser­vices has re­sulted in poor fo­cus on safety. “The sit­u­a­tion reached a point where the board mem­bers and gen­eral managers are more fo­cused on ex­e­cut­ing the fancy projects like the high-speed bul­let train rather than mak­ing rail­ways safer,” a min­istry of­fi­cial said on con­di­tion of anonymity.

The na­tional trans­port de­vel­op­ment pol­icy com­mit­tee (NTDPC) re­port of 2014 has pointed out that the rail­way board has the unique dis­tinc­tion of be­ing the rule maker, op­er­a­tor and

The rail­way board failed to adopt mod­ern tech­nol­ogy, boost LHB coach pro­duc­tion and un­veil a com­pre­hen­sive safety strat­egy.

the reg­u­la­tor but com­pli­ance of safety stan­dards set by the rail­ways for them­selves are of­ten thrown out of win­dow for op­er­a­tional ex­i­gen­cies.

The high level safety re­view com­mit­tee (HLSRC) set up by the cen­tre in 2012, headed by for­mer atomic en­ergy com­mis­sion chief Anil Kakod­kar, points out that in­tro­duc­tion of new trains has ex­erted pres­sure on the ex­ist­ing in­fras­truc­ture. it has strained the in­fras­truc­ture way be­yond its lim­its and all the safety mar­gins have been eaten up, push­ing the rail­ways

to a regime of ad-ho­cism in in­fras­truc­ture main­te­nance.

The Kakod­kar com­mit­tee also made a sug­ges­tion to the rail­ways to set up a Rail­way re­search and de­vel­op­ment coun­cil (RRDC) led by an em­i­nent sci­en­tist and with chair­man and tech­ni­cal mem­bers of the rail­way board as its mem­bers.

The 2012 re­port of the ex­pert group for modernisation of in­dian Rail­ways sug­gested that the rail­way board be re­or­gan­ised to re­flect chair­man as chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer. There should

be mem­bers for safety, busi­ness de­vel­op­ment/com­mer­cial, tech­nol­ogy/ict, freight, pas­sen­ger ser­vices, in­fras­truc­ture, fi­nance and hu­man re­source.

m Raghaviah, gen­eral sec­re­tary, na­tional fed­er­a­tion of in­dian rail­way­men, an­other union of the rail­way staff, said that the rail­way board was not tak­ing quick de­ci­sions on sev­eral is­sues. For ex­am­ple, he said, the board was yet to fill around 1.60 lakh va­can­cies in safety re­lated cat­e­gories be­cause of which the ex­ist­ing staff was over­bur­dened.

“There should be more co­or­di­na­tion among the traf­fic, en­gi­neer­ing and other de­part­ments for safety and higher rev­enue for the rail­ways,” he said.

an­other area where the board has been un­suc­cess­ful is lack of re­search and de­vel­op­ment for adop­tion of cut­ting-edge tech­nol­ogy for safety.

The ntdpc re­port stated that a com­par­i­son of the tech­nolo­gies em­ployed in the in­dian rail­ways and other sys­tems the world over shows that we woe­fully lags be­hind com­peti­tors in tech­nol­ogy. it says there is a gap of a few decades be­tween mod­ern tech­nolo­gies in the de­vel­oped rail­way sys­tems and the in­dian sys­tem.

The rail­ways’ sole R&d or­gan­i­sa­tion – Re­search de­signs and stan­dards or­gan­i­sa­tion (RDSO) — func­tions as tech­ni­cal ad­vi­sor to the rail­way board, zonal rail­ways and pro­duc­tion units and de­vel­ops new and im­proved de­signs. if na­tional trans­port de­vel­op­ment pol­icy com­mit­tee’s re­port is taken into con­sid­er­a­tion, lab­o­ra­to­ries of Rdso have achieved lim­ited pur­pose and these are no longer state-of-the-art.

it also says de­spite ex­ist­ing lab­o­ra­to­ries and strate­gic al­liances with the IITS at Kan­pur, Roor­kee, New Delhi and chen­nai and the de­fence re­search and de­vel­op­ment or­gan­i­sa­tion (DRDO), In­dian Rail­ways is mostly de­pen­dent on im­ported tech­nol­ogy. Rdso’s role is mainly re­stricted to help the rail­ways adopt im­ported tech­nol­ogy.

“Rdso is hamstrung by the gov­ern­ment pro­ce­dures in pro­cure­ment of re­search and test­ing equip­ment,” it stated.

in­dian Rail­ways Vi­sion 2020 doc­u­ment noted that ir should es­tab­lish the world’s most ad­vanced re­search and de­vel­op­ment ca­pa­bil­i­ties for trans­fer of indi­geni­sa­tion of tech­nol­ogy and break­through in­no­va­tions. it laid em­pha­sis on re­vamp­ing Rdso and its in­te­gra­tion with the core of rail­ways op­er­a­tions.

Soon af­ter tak­ing charge, Goyal found that un­manned level cross­ings and de­fects in tracks are two ma­jor causes be­hind rail­way ac­ci­dents. Goyal di­rected of­fi­cials to elim­i­nate all ULCS within one year as against three years time­line set by his pre­de­ces­sor. The rail­ways will need more such quick de­ci­sions for safety.

Of­fi­cials at the helm said the miss­ing bal­ance be­tween ef­forts to in­crease rev­enue and en­sur­ing punc­tu­al­ity of the ser­vices has re­sulted in poor fo­cus on safety

Ranchi-delhi Ra­jd­hani Ex­press de­railed near Minto Bridge in New Delhi on Sep 7

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