Indian Railways has never been safer. What follows | Opinion – analysis
If the number of road deaths is a measure of Indian Railways (IR) safety performance, the performance in 2019-20 is truly commendable. In 2014-15, 292 people died in rail accidents. This figure drops to 5 in 2019-20. Overall, the number of accidents dropped from 135 in 2014-15 to 55 in 2019-20. This is a great applause for clever and thoughtfully crafted security measures. And there is more. There were no victims at the unmanned level crossings (UMLC) in 2019-20, a stark contrast to 2014-15 when 130 people were killed. The removal of the UMLC has generated visible dividends. It could not have been better, the best so far since 1853, when the railways began in India. Now what’s next?
The goal is to have zero accidents with robust security systems. But accidents happen, less than in the past. In 2019-20, derailments constituted a significant proportion: up to 40 out of 55 accidents. The design of the Linke Hofmann Busch (LHB) coaches has reduced deaths during derailments, but the railways certainly need to reduce derailment cases in the first place. Safe interaction of the rail wheel at normal and high speeds, ensuring that the notebook rail maintenance parameters, as well as the trainers underwear, should now be the focus of a achievable dream. Infusing track machines in a big way would provide a highly desired stimulus for faster and more reliable track maintenance. Another step would be to eliminate manned level crossings (MLC). This can now be given priority since UMLCs are now almost removed. Of course, getting rid of MLCs is costly and needs joint action with state governments, but it’s time for MLCs to be the target, too.
But what remains a continuing concern is the great contribution of “failure of railway personnel” as a major cause of accidents. Up to 40 of 55 accidents in 2019-20 fall into this category. Without a doubt, this is a great improvement over the 135 accidents classified under this category in 2014-15. Ongoing training for skill enhancement and efforts to meet new technology requirements will continue to grab the attention of railroads in all departments.
It is also time to make a difficult decision about deaths that occur because our trains do not require the coaches’ doors to be closed before the train begins. Among the world’s major railways, it is only on Indian Railways that a train can start without closing and closing the door. But technology is available to close these chronic gaps, and it’s not too expensive. It will have a positive spin-off for the safety of passengers on trains. The Texas experiment is a welcome step in ensuring the gate is closed before starting a train and must be carried forward. Air-conditioned trains are ideal to start.
Another effort should be to encircle the tracks, especially in congested areas. Living near the tracks is dangerous and reducing the speed of passing trains is a temporary solution at best. If necessary, people who live too close to the tracks should receive alternative accommodation when possible. It is difficult to understand the distance of an oncoming train when it is close to approaching, especially at night. Here lives can be saved.
The strategy adopted by the current leadership to fund security efforts through Rail Suraksha Kosh appears to be working well. Once the funds are in place, improving security is a matter of attitude and patience. Past performance indicators seem to reassure that the railways, under the leadership of PM Modi, are on the right track.
(Arunendra Kumar is a former chairman of the Railways Board)