Tamil Nadu Express fire: Focus back on rail safety

Despite all the talking and promises in successive rail budgets, all one gets to listen after a mishap is the ruing note on “funds constraint".

Supriya Jha

Crores of people travel on the Indian Railway network daily but given the unending spectre of rail accidents most travel with a question in their mind – Will I reach my destination safely?

Painting a grim picture is not being pessimist, the numbers say it all. During 2010-11, 381 people were killed in 141 accidents and in 2011-12, a total of 77 accidents were reported and 114 people lost their lives.

Though the accidents and the death toll show a decline, much more can be done to make rail travel safer for the aam admi.

And first and foremost change required is a more pro-active rail minister.

Former rail minister Dinesh Trivedi – who lost his job on alter of fare hike - had based his rail budget for the year 2011-2012 on the core concern of “safety, safety and safety”.

Despite all the talking and promises and new policies announced in successive rail budgets, all one gets to listen after a mishap is the ruing note on “funds constraint”. The government keeps on reiterating that safety will be accorded the highest priority by Indian Railways, but accidents continue to take lace.

Even though the Ministry spent around Rs 15,767 crore in the last three years on safety, much more needs to be done, especially on safety.

The CAG has revealed how despite numerous field trials carried over the last decade, the railways have not yet managed to build an efficient Anti-Collission Device (ACD).

CAG also reported that a train protection warning system (TPWS) costing over Rs 50 crores that was commissioned in Southern Railway in 2009 had many flaws and needed major changes in the software.

Moreover, CAG report presented a bitter portrait of Indian Railways in terms of fund utilisation when it was found that several road overbridge (ROB) and road underbridge (RUB) works remained despite funds.

The construction of ROB and RUB are important as they will ensure end of unmanned level crossings – the biggest cause of deaths on rail tracks.

As far as the fire-caused accidents are concerned, the Rail Budget 2011-2012 had provisions for fire alarms but as with other issues, the problem is in implementation. Today, a fire alarm could have alerted the 32 passengers who lost their lives in the Tamil Nadu Express fire.

A whopping amount of over Rs 16, 000 crores, has been set aside for safety in this year’s rail budget. But speedy implementation of plans to repair tracks, bridges, signalling gear and rolling stock, etc remains the key.

Indian Railways is one of the pillars of our growing economy stands and it needs to be cared not just for economic growth but also for safeguarding the lives of the citizens who lose their life in avoidable tragedies.