'Rail revamp report thrown into garbage bin'
He had been thrown out of the Railway Ministry because he preferred to put the safety of the people above his party and politics. When most favoured to cling to the chair at the cost of the lives of the people, he smilingly sacrificed his chair for the cause of the nation. In an exclusive interview to Saibal Gupta of Deccan Herald, former Railway Minister Dinesh Trivedi spoke candidly about his shattered dreams of a zero-death Railways and what is wrong with this colossal institution.
Though Railway Ministers promise safer trains, accidents keep recurring. Why?
We have good brains and a dedicated workforce which is essential for running our huge rail network smoothly but we lack modernisation. We are still what we were 50 years back. In the ‘80s, China was behind us but in just 30 years they are 50 years ahead of us; now the situation is such that we can only cite their example but can never be at par with them.
In Japan, in the last 47 years, not a single death has occurred due to railway accidents. The reason is very simple. They have changed with time and modernised their railways which we failed to do. If we want a safer Railways and to secure the life of the people, we need to modernise railways. Or else these kind accidents are going to recur. Automation can only minimise and eliminate human error. If you don’t modernise Railways, even God cannot save us.
Do you mean to say the Railways has been politicised?
I don’t mean to say it. This is the reality and the entire country knows this. Railways for the last 30 years has been used as a political weapon. It is being used as an indirect way to bribe the political parties. Naturally the people in power are least bothered about the safety of the Railways. The rest of the world is watching this ‘Banana Republic’. We are making ourselves a laughing stock. Now the onus lies on the Prime Minister. He will have to decide whether he wants Railways to function in this way and put the life of our people in jeopardy, or rise above politics and take some bold steps to make this colossal institution function smoothly. It is not that we have a bad system; the main problem is that our entire system is Minister-oriented. Whatever revenue comes in, we pump into Rajdhani and Shatabdi but the common poor don’t avail these premier trains. Naturally, when there is an accident, the poor people die.
You are speaking of modernisation. Can you specify?
Actually, I wanted to follow the Japan model where there has not been a single death in the last 47 years but this cannot be done overnight and we need to move step by step to achieve this goal.
Based on the recommendations of the Kakodar committee, I had chosen five focus areas - Track, Bridges, Signalling and Telecommunication, Rolling Stock and Stations and Freight Terminals. This would lead to strengthening of the basic infrastructure of Indian Railways resulting in safety, decongestion, capacity augmentation and modernisation of systems, creating more efficient, faster and safer railways.
With almost 80 per cent of the traffic carried on 40 per cent of the rail network, the high density network (HDN) routes are over-saturated and there is a crying need to upgrade and expand capacity to reduce congestion, provide time for maintenance and improve productivity and safety. I had a plan to include progressive shift to flash butt technology for welding of rails, progressive use of 60 kg rails instead of 52 kg, provision of thick web switches at points and crossings, mechanised maintenance with the latest track machines and increased frequency of ultrasonic testing of tracks.
During the next five years, I had planned to modernise nearly 19,000 km of track through renewals, upgradation of track, replacement and strengthening of 11,250 bridges to run heavier freight trains of 25-ton axle load and to achieve passenger train speeds of 160 kmph. I also had plans to increase manufacture of crash-worthy LHB coaches with proven anti-climb feature of not toppling during accidents, to procure new generation electric locomotives of 9000 and 12000 HP and diesel locomotives of 5500 HP and 6000 HP to facilitate running of heavier and longer freight trains at higher speeds.
As it has always been said that Indian Railways suffers from an ‘implementation bug’, I had decided to create Missions headed by Mission Directors in each of the identified areas for a three-year term. The Directors would directly report to the Railway Board. Each Mission would be provided with appropriate budget and operational autonomy. In addition, a High Level Committee would be set up to facilitate coordination amongst the Missions, fast-track implementation and address bottlenecks.
What happened to the committee report?
In fact, the committee which prepared the report after careful study had the best brains in the country; now the report has been thrown in the garbage box.
Rail safety under spotlight