Debating India

No excuses for head-on collisions

Friday 22 April 2005

The early morning collision of the Sabarmati Express with a stationary goods train near Vadodara in Gujarat on Thursday is indefensible and comes at a time when so much is claimed to have been done on railway safety. Preliminary reports indicate that a possible signal failure could have resulted in this head-on collision, but a statutory inquiry by the Commissioner of Railway Safety that has already begun will be able to pinpoint the actual cause of the tragedy. Considering that seven coaches derailed and one compartment was completely crushed in the collision that took place around 3.20 a.m., the toll could have been even worse than the 22 passengers killed and about 100 injured. The collision clearly points to the Railway administration’s laxity in the enforcement of safety standards. Human errors, equipment failure, including signal failure, and rail fractures have remained the major causes of railway accidents and it may well be no different this time.

Going by reports from the accident site, it appears that the goods train was on the loop line and the Ahmedabad-bound Sabarmati Express had been let into the same track at its full speed — maybe around 100 km per hour. Two questions cry out for answers. How was the passenger train let into the loop line? And even so, why was the signal not on the "caution" mode? That would have caused the train to slow down and consequently reduced the impact of the collision. Unfortunately, the drivers of the two trains died in the accident and cannot throw any light on how it happened. Most of the passengers too must have been asleep, woken up only by the impact of the collision and the derailment of coaches. What offers some comfort is the swift and coordinated rescue and relief operations launched by both the Railways and the Gujarat Government. Chief Minister Narendra Modi and some of his Cabinet colleagues were quick to go to the spot, where the State’s disaster management team had taken over relief operations. Railway Minister Lalu Prasad also rushed to inspect the scene and coordinate relief.

It may be true that the Railways gets the flak for the odd accident, when it carries over a million passengers every day. But a mass transportation system such as the Railways, and that too in the public sector, will always come under close scrutiny. It cannot complain any more of lack of funds for safety or modernisation. The Centre and the Planning Commission have been generous in clearing an ambitious Rs. 17,000 crore modernisation programme, with a clear focus on safety. It is entirely up to the Railway Board to prioritise the safety concerns and allocate funds in proportion to the needs — re-training of field staff, replacement of aged wagons and coaches, track renewal, modernisation of signals and reconstruction of old bridges, to name just a few critical areas. There can be no compromise and no letting up on the vigil on safety.

SPIP | template | | Site Map | Follow-up of the site's activity RSS 2.0