Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Another train accident, another probe ordered: How can Indian Railways resurrect itself?

Indian Railways (PTI)
Just over a month after more than 150 people were killed and nearly 200 injured when Indore-Patna Express jumped off tracks near Kanpur, another train accident took place in central Uttar Pradesh today. Fifteen bogies of Sealdah-Ajmer Express derailed near Rura in Kanpur injuring over 40.
The train was crossing a canal when the coaches toppled off the old bridge. Most of the passengers were asleep but luckily the slow speed of the train prevented casualties.
Soon after the accident, the Railway Ministry did what it does after every such incident - "ordered a probe to ascertain the cause". What happens to reports of such probes is anybody's guess. While the number of files of such inquiries keep on increasing, the big question is why the Indian Railways, the third largest rail network in the world after US and China, has been struggling to improve its passenger safety record?
According to NCRB data, 28,360 train accidents took place in 2014. What's plaguing the Indian Railways?
BRITISH-ERA INFRASTRUCTURE
The concerned authorities are going full speed to visualise PM Modi's ambitious scheme of running bullet trains in India. India and Japan have already agreed on a fully-elevated bullet train corridor between Mumbai and Ahmedabad. The project would cost nearly Rs 10,000 crore.
Every Rail Budget, we see a long list of new trains being announced, keeping in view the 'sentiments' of the ruling party's vote bank. Sadly, passenger safety and security is last on priority.


Country's rail infrastructure has failed to keep pace with the rate at which both passenger and freight traffic has increased substantially over the years. Be it the tracks or signalling system, the basic rail infrastructure in India is still what the Britishers left for us. Upgradation of signalling system, installing of anti-collision device in trains is something we have been hearing in every rail budget speech.
In 1998, Justice HR Khanna committee had suggested some wide ranging steps regarding  rail safety. Most of the recommendations of Khanna committee were approved by Indian Railways - on paper it seems.
One of the most important recommendations of the committee was to make all accident inquiry reports public. Railways is yet to put a stamp of approval on it.
WHAT SHOULD INDIAN RAILWAYS DO?
How to enhance revenue? The puzzle is Indian Railways' achilles heel. After several attempts at increasing revenue from passenger traffic railways it yet to figure out how to go about it. The latest attempt called - dynamic fare system - failed miserably.
The focus should be on increasing revenue from freight traffic, which has always been Indian Railways' backbone. According to a data, railways operate more than 7,421 freight trains carrying 3 million tonnes goods every day. Increasing the speed of slow moving goods train can also provide the much needed impetus to revenue generation. More locomotives per freight train will solve the issue. Also, remote controlled locomotive technology could be an answer to several issues as far as freight train operations are concerned.  
Similarly, increasing speed limit of passenger trains will not only reduce the total travelling time but also improve the overall schedule. Every winter, trains running indefinitely late due to fog has become a norm. Yet, nothing has improved. Countries like Switzerland, Japan, China can provide answer to railways' fog issue. At present only a limited number of trains have been fitted with technology to operate in foggy conditions.
Indian Railways is indeed battling countless issues but it also certainly needs to address the right issue at the right time. It will need a herculean effort to resurrect things in railways, the lifeline of country's transport system, and things will start to improve only if it addresses the root cause - lackadaisical approach.
RECENT TRAIN ACCIDENTS IN INDIA
November 20, 2016: Nearly 150 people died in one of the worst rail tragedies when 14 coaches of the Indore-Patna Express derailed near Pukhrayan station, 60 km from Kanpur, in Uttar Pradesh.
August 4, 2015: As many as 25 were killed and 25 injured when bogies of Kamayani Express between Mumbai and Varanasi derailed and fell into Machak river between Khirkiya and Bhirangi stations in Harda district of Madhya Pradesh.
March 20, 2015: At least 39 passengers were killed and 150 injured when Dehradun-Varanasi Janata Express derailed in Uttar Pradesh's Rae Bareli.
May 4, 2014: Diva Junction-Sawantvadi passenger train derailed between Nagothane and Roha stations in Raigad district of Maharashtra, leaving 20 dead and 100 injured.
May 26, 2014: At least 25 killed and over 50 others injured as Gorakhpur-bound Gorakhdham Express rams into a stationary goods train near Khalilabad station in Sant Kabir Nagar district of Uttar Pradesh.

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