“Safety is always given a lip service”
What kind of safety measures does the Indian Railways need?
Safety of railways is linked with operations and maintenance. Safety is a byproduct of assets, rules and regulations, which are the three pillars and they have to be in close coordination.
There have been two types of regimes across different railway networks globally – zero death and zero accident. many countries have had the zero death regime because of a number of factors including better safety measures. But they failed in preventing accidents despite having best infrastructure. india has failed miserably in implementing both the regimes. However, the records are improving progressively. during 1960-61, there used to be around 300 collisions which have come down to four-five. Indian railways will have to pull up its sleeves for achieving the zero death regime.
also, one needs to check how many times the railway minister convened safety meetings and interacted with the media on safety of railways, in the last three years. earlier, railway ministers had made it mandatory to do field visits and examine activities at the grass root level. unfortunately, for the past three years, the top level officials passed on this responsibility to second-rung officials, which is not a good sign for the railways and imperils the safety of travellers.
Are safety funds under the Rashtriya Rail Sanraksha Kosh enough to revamp the railways?
The Rashtriya Rail sanraksha kosh (RRSK) of ₹1 lakh crore should have been established at least five years back.
The railways say that its assets are getting flogged but on other hand it avoids injecting enough funds into safety related measures. Punctuality meetings are being convened by drms and Gm on a daily basis but, unfortunately, same is not the case with safety. The meetings on safety happen only when any major accident occurs that too because of mounting pressure from the media.
despite the regular reports of asset failure, breakage of rail and other irregularities, no concrete measures are being undertaken for safety,
What should be done for railways safety?
despite the railways spending money on safety there is no significant output. The railway board needs an arbitrator who does not allow one-to-one conversation. The role of the arbitrator needs to be played either by the CRB or some other senior official. Safety is always given a lip service.
Foreign technologies have not helped the railways; home-grown technologies have. Had the foreign technologies been customised for indian conditions, they might have proven good.
There should be more and rapid production of German LHB coaches. none of the passengers sustained injuries in two recent derailments – Kaifiyat express and nagpur-mumbai duranto express – because of LHB coaches, which have more safety features.
The renewal of rail which should have happened at a certain level has not kept pace with the current requirements. The detection mechanism for rail defects is faulty. Besides, ultrasonic flaw detection is being done manually, not mechanically. in some sections the fracture detention work has been given to private contractors which raises suspicion on their ability. luckily, introduction of new trains that used to be done as a populist measure has been stopped of late. no new train should be introduced for the next three years.
examinations to recruit around 30,000 safety category staff and loco drivers have been conducted but there is undue delay in declaring the results. This has put more pressure on the existing locomotive pilots who are working overtime.
Gangmen used to be sturdy people who would even lift the rail as it’s purely a manual job. now, youth having higher qualification are joining as gangmen which shows that they do not intend to do hard physical work. The real (gangmen) cadre is getting depleted. At the ground level, railways’ manpower has become weak and under-skilled.
What is your observation on the derailment near Khatauli?
In the Khatauli-utkal derailment, the ground staff allegedly carried out maintenance without taking safety precautions. it shows that the indiscipline has risen.
Let us assume the traffic block was not given but did it justify not putting the red banner flags? In emergency, a gangman is authorised to put a red banner. Has the board woken up after a series of derailments, is the real question to be asked. The resignation of the CRB or the minister is not going to solve the problem.
The utkal derailment is a case of gross neglect. The government, for the last three years, has been hyping on the futuric plans but, it seems, it’s least bothered about the present. There is little focus on the day-to-day operations and more on the vision. The railways is a dynamic and robust organisation where every moment hundreds of lives are at risk if safety is compromised.
most of the board members believe in saving their faces during a crisis. if this continues, the Railways will remain as vulnerable as it was always.