Lok Sabha TV- Public Forum: Kanpur Train Tragedy
The recent train accident in Kanpur has raised serious questions about India’s railway infrastructure, management, safety issues and other issues. The Indore-Patna Express was about mid-way through a 27 hour journey between the two cities when it slid off the track during the early hours of the morning killing around 140 people and injuring 200. The impact was so strong that one of the coaches landed on top of the other. A forensic probe has been ordered by the Railway Minister assuring that the guilty would not be spared. Indian Railways is the world’s 4th largest rail network and these accidents bring to light the track defects and maintenance.
Kakodkar Committee Report:
The Ministry of Railways had appointed a High Level Safety Review Committee under the chairmanship of Dr. Anil Kakodkar to review the safety of the Indian Railways and recommend improvements.
- All safety margins have been squeezed.
- Major neglect of infrastructure maintenance.
- Independent mechanism for safety regulation.
- Railway Safety Authority with enough powers needed.
- Need for adopting advanced signaling system.
- Need to restructure. The Research Design and Standards Organization (RDSO), the apex technical wing of the Railways, is highly constrained.
Reasons and Steps to be taken:
What is needed is to ensure the reliability of tracks and rolling stock to extend their life. Railways’ capacity is getting used to 130% in some sections. There is an immediate need for capacity augmentation because trains keep on getting added.
The tracks are designed for a variation of 60 degrees to -4 degrees. It is being said that the winter might be a reason for fault in the tracks which seems unlikely to be the case. Apart from this, the interaction between the wheels and the tracks also adds to stress on the track. Poor track maintenance including lack of proper fittings and ballast on the railway lines causes fracture on the tracks. While a simple crack on track may not be of much concern, a severe fracture causing separation of the track could lead to derailment of trains.
It has to be noted that railways are the national carriers not only for passengers but also for freight. There are problems related to training of staffs and lack of sufficient aids from the Government in terms of tools and technologies. This is not just about seeking loans or funds. Technology is the prime requirement to maintain the system and infrastructure well. Technology induction has been slow.
The coaches over the last couple of decades have been anti telescopic coaches where if the ends of the coach crashes, the middle part would remain safe. But there are some gaps which have not been taken care of all over. Had there been stainless steel LHB (Linke Holfmann Bush) coaches, then the damage could have been less as these coaches have more in-built safety features which can absorb shock and impact of derailment more effectively and as a result do not topple.
The amount of capital or investment required for railways is huge for both infrastructure as well as training. Railways have to make money as well so that at the end of the day, it can be deployed somewhere. Flexi fare was a good step in this direction. Railways have to become a financially viable organization. For a beginning, the passenger subsidy could be paid back to the railways like the way it happens in many railways across the world. A Railway Safety Fund is required but it is important to decide that this money is spent in the most judicious manner.
The fact however, remains that the Indian Railways, which serves 13 million passengers every day, still has a poor safety record, with thousands of people dying in accidents every year. The ex-gratia announced and condolences cannot bring the lost lives back. There is an immediate need to do something concrete in ensuring the safety of the passengers.