Making Railways safer

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Indian railway has been an integral part of India’s culture and the back bone to our country’s infrastructure. Indian Railways is playing a huge role in our country’s efforts to become more connected and more prosperous. However, train accidents occur at regular intervals causing many deaths and destruction. Although Kakodkar committee’s report on rail safety points out that the year on year number of accidents is decreasing but the number of casualties has increased, there is still a lot to be desired in terms of rail safety. The committee recommended funding up to Rs 1L cr to make Railways safer.

There are many factors which lead to these accidents: the most important one is the presence of unmanned level crossings, they are responsible for more than 50% of the fatal accidents. Obsolete railway infrastructure is another reason, timely replacement of aged tracks, rolling stock and signal equipment are not taking place which leads to derailments. Also fire accidents occur due to faulty wiring or because of inflammable material brought in to the trains by irresponsible passengers. Some other accidents occur due to wilful damaging of rail tracks by anti-state groups like Naxalites.

Reasons for non-ensuring safety are: Lack of funds is one of the main reasons for lax implementation of many committees’ reports by Railways. 63% of railway earnings are spent as salary budget for its 1.4m employees and around 23% on fuel. This leaves very little for the Railways to invest in itself for any kind of modernization. Another reason is the limited participation of private sector in Railways, which in essence is a monopoly. Increasing competition by allowing private players in to some of its operations will lead to better services and leaves government with only essential responsibilities. Also the present structure of Railway board is not conducive to create and maintain a modern rail network. It is a typical ineffective and slow bureaucratic structure which lacks coordination and the entrepreneurial spirit. Despite numerous well recommended reports on modernization, political will lacks to take up the issue because any hike in ticket cost is resisted. Also these modernization plans call for thousands of crores which the government increasingly finds difficult to fund due to its prime focus on fiscal consoldation.

Though some recommendations of the Kakodkar committee and Sam Pitroada committee’s report on modernization of railways have been implemented, much remains to be done. Railways have started gradually replacing all coaches with LHB coaches which are safer and efficient; it is also implementing green toilets which will reduce the corrosion of rails caused by open toilets. A special railway safety fund of Rs 17000cr was setup in 2001 to upgrade the ageing infra. Now government is contemplating to start another such fund and this time it may cost Rs 40,000 cr. Anti-Collision Devices (ACD) were installed in Konkan Railway on pilot basis.

Railways need to speed up its goal of eliminating all unmanned level crossings. And implement the committee’s recommendations of advance signalling system, modernization of bridges, automatic braking system and so on. Government of India needs to take up the safety of railways as an urgent matter and give necessary support though funding adequately and by coordinating with all government agencies and private corporations in making the railways safer.

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