Callous Railways

First Edit

Less than two months after a suspected sabotage by Maoists led to a derailed train being hit by another in West Bengal, another horrific collision of trains has taken place in the state. Sixty-three people have been killed and over 90 injured when the Sealdah-bound Uttarbanga Express collided with the Ranchi-bound Vananchal Express at Sainthia in Bhirbhum in the early hours of Monday. It is said that the driver of the Vananchal Express overshot the signal and rammed into the other train which was just leaving Sainthia station. Why he did so is unclear. There is speculation that faulty signalling may have caused the train collision. Railway officials have not ruled out sabotage. Even as rescue workers are cutting through the mangled steel to pull out bodies of survivors and the dead, politicians are engaging in an unseemly blame game.
While railway minister Mamata Banerjee is looking for ways to embarrass the West Bengal government for the state being the site of two major train disasters in as many months, her predecessors in the ministry are busy trying to settle scores with her.

Instead, the railway minister and her predecessors would do well to make public exactly what they did to make rail travel safe for passengers. Blaming train collisions on conspiracies and sabotage does not get them off the hook. Many of these disasters could be avoided by installing anti-collision devices. According to experts, such devices detect the presence of two trains approaching each other or when a speeding train moves towards a stationary one on the same track. It halts the trains preventing a collision. Apparently anti-collision devices have a 99.9 per cent success rate in preventing collisions. What then is standing in the way of the ministry taking steps to install these devices?

While some might argue that the number of train crashes has declined over the years from 320 in 2003-04 to 177 in 2008-09, even one crash is unacceptable, especially when these — thanks to technology — are avertable. Over 200 people have died in two train collisions this year. Every one of these lives could have been saved had Indian Railways given more thought to rail safety. Crores of rupees are being spent on rail safety. Is this amount being spent wisely? Officials blame shortage of funds. But funds remain unutilised. The railways are India’s lifeline. They cannot be allowed to devour so many lives.

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