Column : Preventing rail accidents

Written by JAYA JUMRANI | Jaya Jumrani | Updated: Jul 22 2010, 02:08am hrs
The recent ill-fated collision between the Uttarbanga Express and Vananchal Express has once again put a question mark on the governments policies on safety in a rail network that serves more than six billion passengers every year. Indian Railways, over 63,000 km long, is the worlds fourth largest network behind the US, Russia and China. Safety is a vital aspect for any mode of transportation.

An analysis of the accident statistics reveals that derailments constitute a majority of the accidents followed by unmanned level crossing accidents. Human failure, by railway staff or the general public, continues to be the main cause of accidentsas is being suspected in case of Mondays collision. Sabotage by Maoist rebels is also gaining steam. Its contribution to total accidents has increased from 1.7% in 2004-05 to 7.3% in 2008-09. As is being widely reported, approximately 428 people have been killed and over 600 injured in some 200 train accidents in India in the last months. All this has happened despite the existence of ministrys Corporate Safety Plan (2003-13), under which Rs 31,835 crore have been envisaged for safety enhancement, including funds already available under the non-lapsable Special Railway Safety Fund and the Railway Safety Fund.

Some of the key objectives of this long-term blueprint are to achieve reduction in rate of accidents per million train kilometres from the current level of 0.44 to 0.17 by 2013, to focus on development of manpower through major improvements in the working environment and training to reduce the accidents attributable to human failure by 40% and to eliminate fatalities due to collisions by the extensive use of indigenously developed anti-collision device (ACD), which has a success rate of 99.9%. However, with nearly three years left for the plans tenure and ministrys dodgy attitude towards the implementation of ACD on all its trains, it doesnt seem that these objectives can be attained on time. Going forward, the ministry should install ACD on all its trains at the earliest to save several more precious lives. If not, then it should at the least cite the reasons for its hitherto lackadaisical approach towards implementing the measure.