Relevance and use of the article in UPSC prelims and mains examination:
This article is About recent rail accident which causes many lives. In This article a review of railway safety system is presented. Indian railways is still one of the best organisations in the world, next to the army, with the most talented people. But the organisation is being systematically damaged by successive governments because of the lack of understanding of this organisation’s potential. Indian railways needs to be benchmarked to the Japanese railway system, Shinkansen, which, since 1964, has been carrying millions of passengers with zero fatality. Indian Railways is more than capable of achieving this benchmark, provided we give it the necessary resources.
- The number of people who died in train accidents in the country during 2014-15 was 118. This was a near three-time jump from 42 in 2013-14. These two figures put the recent tragedy—the derailment of the Indore-Patna Express on Sunday in Pukhrayan, Uttar Pradesh, killing more than 140—in perspective. The Union minister for railways, Suresh Prabhu, has ordered an inquiry by the Commissioner of Railway Safety (CRS) and announced a “separate investigation involving technical and forensic analysis by an appropriate agency to look into all possible angles.”
Major causes of these accidents:
- The present problem of the railways is that the organisation is on the verge of bankruptcy. Very soon, Indian Railways may need to borrow money to pay salaries as it is likely to report a net loss of Rs 25,000 crore or more. Biggest worry is safety as the Depreciation Reserve Fund (DRF) and Development Fund (DF) are getting depleted, since the railways are cash-starved.
- The railways are not generating enough operating cash surplus to even meet daily operating expenses. To replace an old asset (tracks, rolling stock or signalling systems), you need to put money in the DRF.
- One of the major causes of rail fractures is the heavy load on tracks. The Rakesh Mohan-led National Transport Development Policy Committee had identified, in its India Transport Report (2014), 141 out of 212 sections of high-density networks operating at a line-capacity utilization of over 100%. The tracks are therefore, the report observed, “strained to the breaking point” as the optimum line-capacity utilization for smooth operation of trains is 80% or below.
- The problem may sound technical but is essentially political in nature. The political incentives are so aligned that the passenger tariffs are kept ridiculously low while new trains are constantly introduced, burdening the track infrastructure to unbearable levels.
- The other major problem with the Indian Railways is the slow pace of technology adoption. The Indore-Patna Express was travelling at a speed of 110km per hour—a speed at which the ICF coaches are not safe due to lack of anti-climbing features. The high-level safety review committee chaired by Anil Kakodkar had recommended switching over from ICF to Linke Hofmann Busch (LHB) coaches in 2012.The LHB coaches have anti-climbing features which prevent the rolling stock from piling over each other in case of accidents, thus minimizing the number of casualties.
- A large number of train accidents are on account of human failure—115 of 131 train accidents in 2014-15 were attributed to this reason. The Indian Railways still depends on an army of trackmen for the maintenance of track infrastructure. In the backdrop of the recent accident, various efforts underway to incorporate technology to do this job must be accelerated.
What needed to be done:
- The technological upgrade comes within the broader ambit of modernization of Indian Railways that has been taken up by this government. Under the “Swachh Rail-Swachh Bharat” programme, Prabhu is aiming to replace all the direct discharge toilets in the trains with eco-friendly bio-toilets by 2020-21.
- It will not just be good for hygiene but also for the safety of Indian Railways. The Kakodkar committee noted that the direct discharge of human waste “has several serious safety implications arising out of corrosion of rails and related hardware as well as poor maintenance of undercarriage equipment due to inhuman unhygienic conditions.”
- The organizational set-up of the Indian Railways is also not geared to prioritize safety concerns.The Indian Railways needs an empowered safety regulator which is not merely a part of the overarching regulator—safety as an objective should have precedence over other regulatory issues like non-discriminatory pricing and infrastructure access.
- The organizational structure, however, is a symptom of the overall institutional disregard to the concept of safety. For instance, even the record-keeping practice excludes accidents of minor nature.
- we need to go for a generational change in our railway system and completely modernise it with latest technology. For this, the government needs a massive investment programme without relying on revenue from the railway’s internal generation. This investment will not only save precious lives, it will give handsome dividends to the GDP. It’s time we change the definition of the railways from a “commercial organisation” to a “basic infrastructure provider”.
Has the Indian Railway completely failed to ensure passenger safety in its operations? What needs to be done urgently to improve railways safety? Political incentives and organizational structure contribute to a disregard for safety?Critically examine.
The points which should be kept in mind while talking of railway safety and service:
- Doubling & Tripling of existing lines - Indian Railways already has quite a few acres of land on which they can double or triple the existing lines, thus reduce the congestion on existing ones and thus increase punctuality.
- Improve Signalling System - Indian Railways during winters, especially in North India runs through a lot of delays, thus delaying whole of the system & gives a bad passenger experience overall. We should learn from South Korea, Japan & France, how they have improved their signalling system that even when the train travels at 350kmph, the driver is sure of passenger & train safety.
- Solar Panels - As we fall on the tropical belt of earth, so we are a solar rich country. We can use this plus, by putting more solar panels, on our railway stations as well as on our platform roofs.Also, as we know a lot of trains run whole day long, therefore we get around 9 hours of direct sunlight if we install solar panels on train roofs, thus saving a lot of revenue which will end up in diesel.
- Urban Planning - As most of us must be knowing how compact Japan is, yet the urban planning of transportation system is such, that somehow you can get direct vehicle/direct option to come to railway stations for eg rapid metro is in the same station as the railways.
- Modernization of tracks & upgradation of engines - If we can upgrade our tracks & introduce trains with good acceleration which at least run at 220-240 kmph, thereby reducing the transit time & therefore eliminating sleeper options from a lot of trains & introduce sitting options, thus increasing efficiency.
- Introduction of EMU type trains- If you have been to Hyderabad, Chennai, Mumbai, Kolkata we have seen the EMU trains running around or going to sub urbs of those city. One thing is to be noticed is that those trains have several stops, but when they run out of station, they pick up acceleration very fast. The reason is the presence of pantograph on every alternate boogie, thus the power is evenly distributed on each bogie, thus the acceleration is quick. So on high speed, long distance trains, we can introduce this idea first.
- Dustbin - Presence of dustbin on every compartments of every boogies, so that the tracks & coaches aren't made dirty.
- Bio-Toilets - Proper sanitation methods should be introduced.
- Public Announcement System - Public Announcement should be made before approaching stations so that if anyone somehow falls asleep or if the approaching station is at late night, he/she gets informed.
- Crowd Management on Railway Station - We all know, how populated our country & our cities are, so we should plan our station accordingly so that crowd management can be done.
- Proper display of information on railways.
- Enquiry centre.
- Direction boards.
- Tourist Information Centres on major railway stations.
- Proper taxi service without harassment & Intra City bus service close to Station
- Wi-Fi - As the world is moving into being netizens, having internet while travelling is becoming a must. Having been travelled in Howrah-New Delhi Rajdhani Express, which already has Wifi, but the Wifi is not upto the mark. So introduction of strong Wi-Fi networks in all long distance trains is a must.
- Comfortable Coaches - More comfortable coaches should be introduced which can reduce the instability & movement of the trains, having good interiors, comfortable berths, washroom, lightning & therefore overall experience.
- Fooding Options - Fooding options should be increased, by increasing the access to more private vendors.
- IRCTC & Tatkal Booking - I really feel booking Tatkal tickets even after the split of time window is still difficult & if we make a queue on PRS, one has to waste his whole day, because a sleeper class tatkal option is available at 11am. So one literally has to miss half his working day to get a ticket, which I feel ultimately will boost black marketing.
- Non-Access to outsiders - People without tickets, Eunuchs, Vendors boarding early morning, they all shouldn't be allowed to access the trains as it is very disturbing & all the time one has to be conscious about their safety & luggage.