Safety concerns

Three train accidents on a single day in Uttar Pradesh have laid bare the abysmal safety record of the Indian Railways. The accidents took place when trains collided at Kanpur, Etawah and Allahabad districts. Around 10 people have been killed in the three incidents with over 45 injured. According to railway officials, heavy fog contributed to poor visibility resulting in the trains colliding. But why two trains were on the same track in the first place boggles the mind. Are we so callous about the safety of passengers? A probe is on and hopefully this will reveal whether it was human error or mechanical failures that paved the way for the disaster. Saturday, the day of the triple collisions, would have been even bloodier had alert rail officials not noticed cracks in the tracks between Meenambakkam  and Tirusallam railway stations in Chennai.

Train accidents have witnessed a sharp surge over the past few months. Since October last year, there have been eight major accidents; three of these were major. It has been alleged that Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee, who is far too preoccupied with local politics, is neglecting the railway portfolio and not paying it the attention it deserves. Last month she had come under some flak for using the presentation of the White Paper to settle scores with her predecessor, Lalu Yadav. It is time she stopped using her ministry to score political points and instead started the important work of improving rail safety.

While Railway authorities cannot absolve themselves of responsibilities for mishaps, the public has a role to play in ensuring safety as well. And passengers have often shown themselves up to be far from responsible in their conduct. Passengers pull the emergency chain to stop the train so that they can get off where they please rather than to use this device to halt the train in a crisis. Besides, it is well known that visibility is low during winter. Passengers often gherao the train driver, forcing him to plough through the fog even when they know this is not the most prudent thing to do. Over the past weekend, there have been countless incidents of passengers harassing, even holding air crew hostage, to force airplanes to fly despite poor visibility. It is time the public understood that running trains or planes during heavy fog puts at risk the lives of thousands of people. They must leave these decisions to the concerned authorities.

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