Rail mishaps are not a new in our country. But such incidents often reveals startling reality and probable shortcomings in the infrastructure. A reason behind the high casualties in Sunday’s accident is that the Indore-Patna Express had ICF coaches, which are known for piling up in case of accidents. On the other hand premium trains such as the Rajdhanis and Shatabdis are made up with the modern Linke Hoffman Busch (LHB) which are immune to such disaster. Notably, Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu had promised in the 2015-16 Budget that all trains would eventually have LHB coaches and that the ICF coaches would be phased out, an Indian Express report said. However, for over a year now, the Railway Board has been stalling this process, citing the industry would not be able to match the scale of production of the new coaches. Currently, around 55,000 of ICF coaches of varying ages are in circulation whereas the number of LHB coaches is just about 5,000-8,000.
According to the report, sources in the ministry said Prabhu had issued an order, soon after the 2015-16 Budget, to formalise the policy for a total conversion into LHB, but the Railways bureaucracy has stalled it by asking him to reconsider the pace of conversion. The design of the ICF coaches is of the 1950s’ vintage. The coaches get their name from the Integral Coach Factory at Perambur in Chennai, where they are built. They were first designed in collaboration with Swiss company Schlieren. One of the shortcomings of these coaches is that the design is not meant for speeds above 80-90 kmph, unlike the LHB coaches, which are designed for speeds upwards of 120 kmph. Unlike the ICF coaches, LHBs are especially designed to not pile up in case of accidents such as the one on Sunday. Sources in the ministry said ICF coaches continued to thrive, despite LHB being in circulation for some years now, because the industry involved in the production of the ICF coaches is an old one and has been lobbying hard for its survival.
Internal targets set by the ministry claim ICF coaches, or “conventional coaches” as they are called, will be totally replaced by LHB coaches by 2020. After Sunday’s accident, there is a thinking within the government that the deadline for conversion to LHB coaches needs to be advanced by a couple of years. Hope government and Railways will come up stringent measures to prevent such accidents.