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Two months, three derailments: It’s time the ministry takes a closer look at railway safety

With the Railways yet to present a comprehensive plan to avoid these vulnerabilities such accidents continue to claim hundreds of lives. The inability to swiftly tackle the issue of safety raises questions of where the attention and resources of the ministry are focused.

Written by Kanishka Singh | New Delhi |
January 23, 2017 6:04:54 pm
train derailed, train accident, Jagdalpur-Bhubaneswar Express derailment, death toll, Hirakhand Express derailed, Hirakhand Express, train accident, railway, suresh prabhu, odisha, odisha train accident, andhra pradesh, death toll, indian express news At the accident site near Kuneru station in Vizianagaram, Andhra Pradesh, on Sunday. PTI photo

The derailment of the Jagdalpur-Bhubaneswar Hirakhand Express in Andhra Pradesh’s Vizianagaram district killed at least 41 people raising new questions on the safety of the railway network and effectiveness of safety check mechanisms. The latest accident is the third of its kind in the last two months with a total death toll above 100. But, the fact is that the railway network is openly accessible, unfenced and hence vulnerable to sabotage. Then there is the fact that at least 40 per cent of the accidents are caused by staff error.

With the Railways yet to present a comprehensive plan to avoid these vulnerabilities such accidents continue to claim hundreds of lives. The inability to swiftly tackle the issue of safety raises questions of where the attention and resources of the ministry are focused. The commitment of the finance ministry to ensure railways safety will also come under scrutiny while allocating the funds needed for modernisation and procuring safety equipment.

WATCH VIDEO | MHA Asks NIA To Probe Sabotage Angle In Hirakhand Express Tragedy

While railway safety should be kept paramount, the maximum the ministry has done this year is to propose the procurement of advanced technology and equipment to detect cracks in the network. It will easily take years to acquire sufficient enough equipment to make it an integral part of the safety check process and till then, the ministry must make the best use of its personnel and gangmen.

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The ongoing process to replace ICF coaches with German-made Linke Hofmann Busch (LHB) coaches will not be enough as it only reduces fatalities in accidents with its anti-climbing feature and not avoid derailments them altogether.

Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu is one of the most tech savvy ministers in the Central and regularly addresses problems of travelers raised via social media. Immediate redressal of these problems has earned him a lot of popularity among the masses. However, railway safety is something he will have to be more actively involved in.

Still, the underlying reason behind at least 40 per cent accidents in the last six years is staff error. Thus, the inability to avoid or detect faults in railways network due to sabotage can largely be attributed to failure of staff and the ineffective safety mechanism laid down by the ministry.

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One would expect that the Railways would have a list of vulnerable spots on its network. There has to be an immediate review of number of track inspectors and gangmen employed by the Railways is enough. Gangmen and inspection personnel must be properly trained. In shortage, hiring of extra personnel becomes equally important, especially at known vulnerable areas. Frequency of inspections also needs to go up along with more safety audits.

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First published on: 23-01-2017 at 06:04:54 pm
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