Will railway Board wake up from slumber?
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