Human negligence and rail accidents

The cause of Saturday’s railway accident at Khatauli in Uttar Pradesh in which 24 passengers lost their lives is gradually becoming clear: it was criminal negligence of the concerned railway staff and lack of communication and coordination between them. The rail track was being repaired. But the ill-fated Kalinga Utkal Express was allowed to pass over the line. The Permanent Way (PW) staff claim they had informed the Station Superintendent that repair work was going on and he should have sent messages to stop the train. This he did not do. The Station Superintendent has denied that he had been given any information about repairing work at all.
The final inquiry report has not been submitted but after Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu’s ultimatum to the Railway Board Chairman to fix responsibility immediately has made the Railway Board swing into action. The Member (Engineering) of the Board, the General Manager and the Divisional Regional Manager of the Northern Railway have been asked to go on leave. Four officials of the Engineering Department of the Northern Railway have been suspended. The Chief Track Engineer of the Northern Railway has been transferred. Obviously, prima facie they have been found responsible in one way or another. If the Railway Board cannot manage ordinary passenger trains, how will they manage the proposed bullet trains which will be running at between 200 and 250 km per hour? An accident in such a superfast train will cause the death of hundreds of passengers.
The Railways routinely hold an inquiry after ever accident. The inquiry reports suggest preventive measures. But how many of these measures are actually implemented? The Railway Standing Committee’s report has said that between 1950 and 2016, the number of passenger trains has gone up by 1,344 per cent and that of goods trains by 1,642 per cent. It means excessive pressure and congestion on the existing railway track. This is also a contributory factor for frequent accidents. The Standing Committee had recommended the introduction of Link-Hoffman-Bush coaches. These coaches do not climb one upon the other in accidents (as has happened at Khatauli) but this recommendation has remained on paper only. Transfer, demotion or even dismissal of railway staff after an accident cannot prevent future accidents. A thorough study of the entire railway system should be undertaken and the lacunae in safety measures removed. The railways are the lifeline of the nation. They have to be kept in absolutely fit order. Punishing some members of the staff for dereliction of duty is not enough.

Tuesday, 22 August, 2017