Pitching for safety

Written by Rajat Arora | Updated: May 14 2014, 09:36am hrs
After a series of railway fire incidents in recent months, the railway board has put up a special railway safety fund on its priority list for the next government to come in place shortly. The non-lapsable fund would be used to upgrade the maintenance of railway infrastructure and install fire preventive measures in all trains.

We need a separate safety fund to upgrade our infrastructure. The recent fire cases have made it imperative for the Railways to have a separate fund to ensure that there's no laxity in maintenance due to lack of funds. These funds have to come from the ministry of finance, we don't have the capacity to raise it on our own, a senior railway board official told FE.

According to railway board sources, the current minister, Mallikarjun Kharge, who became the railway minister last year, wanted to make a case for the special fund but he couldn't push through it because of the elections. The Railways is hoping that the new minister would take up the matter with the ministry of finance.

The railway board is also planning to write to the finance ministry to waive the dividend it pays on the gross budgetary support. Every year, we pay a dividend of around R6,000 crore, so, if that amount is waived for five years, well get around R30,000 crore in that fund, the official said.

Theres a need to reintroduce a non-lapsable railway safety fund (RSF). The previous RSF, with a corpus of R17,000 crore, was started by the NDA government, in the 2002-03 budget presented by the then railway minister Nitish Kumar. This RSF lapsed on April 1, 2008, he added.

After the Centre infused R17,000 crore for safety upgrade, the railways overachieved its committed target of reducing the frequency of consequential accidents from 0.44 to 0.17 accidents per million train km.

The Railways is also planning to install smoke detectors in all its air conditioned coaches, at a cost of R20 lakh per coach. The fire detectors would be developed immediately. The national transporter has proposed to make modifications in the fuse distribution boxes and ventilators of non-air conditioned coaches and increasing the number of fire extinguishers in the coaches.

The Railways is currently doing a test run of the Australian fire alarm in the Jammu Rajdhani. If successful, all trains would be equipped with the same technology.

The national transporter is also planning to upgrade its safety certification. Creation of a fire stimulation software facility at RDSO in Lucknow is also under works. There is also a proposal for setting up a fire-test lab at RDSO.

Theres a need to develop stronger and more fire-worthy material for the roof of coaches. We also need to use fire-retardant materials, as per international norms, for coach furnishing, the official said.

However, a CAG audit report that studied safety works between 2006-07 and 2010-2011 found that the department of safety has surrendered a major part of the RSF funds allotted to it, though the budgetary allocation itself was much less than the funds available with the RSF.