Safety of rail passengers is a foremost priority for the railways than any other project,” Pawan Kumar Bansal said on the day he took over as rail minister. Four months on, and a few hundred more deaths later at unmanned railway crossings and following the stampede at the Allahabad railway station, all reports on railway safety, including that of the Kakodkar committee, gather dust at Rail Bhavan.
The Kakodkar committee, set up in the aftermath of the derailment of the Kalka Mail near Fatehpur in July 2011, had in its report submitted last February proposed far-reaching measures to improve the national transporter’s safety record. It had suggested R1 lakh crore of investment, half of it coming as gross budgetary support (GBS) and the rest by charging a safety cess on tickets, over five years to improve the safety of rail passengers.
In his debut rail budget speech on Tuesday, Bansal is expected to announce 100 new passenger trains; his predecessor announced 175 in the last budget, without keeping in mind that the already overloaded rail lines cannot handle the load and running new trains is a major safety hazard, as pointed by the Kakodkar committee.
“Introduction of new trains has strained the infrastructure way beyond its limit and all the safety margins have been eaten up, pushing railways to a regime of ad hocism in infrastructure maintenance. The committee strongly recommends not introducing any new trains on the existing infrastructure,” the report said.
The rail budget is also expected to announce the manufacturing of 4,200 new coaches, of which only 600 are the new lightweight LHB design. The rest are to be Integral Coach factory design coaches, which the Kakodkar committee said are unsafe as they are not fit to be run in long-formation trains.
The committee has strongly recommended stopping the production of ICF coaches and switching completely to LHB ones, but with only one LHB coach factory at Kapurthala, the railways continues to rely on ICF coaches.
“At present, there are 43,000 ICF coaches running which have to be replaced with the LHB coaches in five years,” the report says.
The committee also recommended installing automatic train protection equipment in trains. The Indian Railways’ attempt at this, however, failed as its train protection and warning system was hit with technical glitches and was held unreliable. “We are working on a new anti-collision system but when we’ll get a foolproof system is not fixed as yet,” a Rail Board official told FE.
The independent railway safety authority still remains a distant dream as nobody is clear about its contours or whether it will see the light of the day or not.
“The formation of the authority is still not clear,” the official said.
The apex body of the railways too came in for criticism from the Kakodkar committee. “The Rail Board has the unique distinction of being the rule maker, operator and the regulator, all wrapped in one,” the report says.
For better track record
* Panel suggests elimination of all level crossings (manned & unmanned) in 5 years at an estimated cost of Rs.50,000 cr
* Implementation of Advance Signalling System covering 19,000 km of trunk route at a cost of Rs.20,000 cr
* Maintenance of safety-related infra at a cost of Rs.20,000 cr
* New coaches to be of safer LBH type, costing Rs.10,000 cr