Unsafe railways

Unsafe railways

The death of 32 passengers in a fire that engulfed a coach of the New Delhi-Chennai Tamil Nadu Express in the early hours of Monday is yet another serious indictment of the poor safety standards of Indian railways.

The fact that so many passengers sleeping in the compartment and helplessly caught in the fire were charred to death and a number of others were injured is a tragedy too terrible for description. In spite of claims about improvement of safety norms and practices, accidents have become a serial feature of the railways with hardly a week passing without reports of a mishap, major or minor, in some part of the country. Over 1,400 people have lost their lives in these accidents in the last five years, making Indian railways the most accident-prone and hazardous in the world. The loss of public and private property is also considerable.


Fire in compartments, derailments, collision between trains, poor signalling, lack of upkeep and maintenance of tracks, equipment and rolling stock and poor vigilance of staff have variously contributed to the occurrence of accidents.

There were fires in the prestigious Rajdhani Express trains last year. There was also a major accident in the Kalka Express in which 70 people were killed. The fire in the Tamil Nadu Express is thought to have been caused by an electrical short circuit, which shows laxity in maintenance, though the other reasons are being probed too. The railways conduct statutory enquiries to find out the causes of accidents but no action is taken. The reports sometimes even misrepresent the causes.

The safety of passengers should be the first concern and priority of the railways but investment in safety has always taken a back seat. The fire detection system was introduced in some trains some time back as a pilot project but many trains do not have it. Anti-collision devices are not there in many railway zones. A recent CAG report had noted that the number of safety personnel is below the required norms in all the zones. The railways are in serious financial trouble and there is no effort to increase revenues which are needed to upgrade and modernise the system and its operations. Safety and security of passengers have become the casualty of populist politics and poor management of the national transporter.

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