The Rail Tragedy?

An few untoward train tragedies have hit us again in the past couple of weeks, has left many people dead and several injured. A formal inquiry has been initiated as always. The Railway minister had offered his resignation to the Prime Minister on back of these unfortunate developments, which has sort off been accepted by way of a change of guard at the helm of Rail Bhawan. Piyush Goyal has been brought in, after a brilliant performance in the energy sector. But, Suresh Prabhu was also one of the best performing railway minister ever. Will a change of guard be enough? It won’t when it was found in one of the cases that the tracks were undergoing repair works which was not communicated in time to the train driver that led to the accident taking place.

Data regarding train accidents over the last 5 years bears testimony to the fact that railway accidents are increasing at a glacial speed. Over 580 accidents have taken place in the last 5 years and 53 of them are due to derailments. There are a plethora of reasons for these unfortunate incidents to take place continuously.

First and foremost what is observed is that more importance to safety and security of rail routes and trains are given to the VIP trains like Rajdhani, Shatabdi, etc. The trains categorized as non-VIP ones are more prone to such mishaps. Does that mean Rajdhanis and Shatabdis are absolutely impervious to accidents? The answer is no. As the tracks and signalling system are common, what is different is the quality of rolling stock, namely locomotives, LHB coaches and better monitoring of tracks before such trains pass on them.

Another major area where the railways display lacuna is the management of funds. Depreciation Reserve Fund (DRF) and Development Fund (DF) are getting depleted, since the railways are cash-starved majorly because passenger traffic is down by millions as a result of affordable air travel options. 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. Therefore, the much required replacement of old assets is postponed — knowingly compromising safety.

Another cause of concern is that the railways have lost their focus from operation with safety, to peripheral activities like catering, Wi-Fi, bullet trains, etc. After every train wreck there is the customary judicial probe that takes place with the committee coming out with policies to avoid them, but these reports are only collecting dust.

The major measures that have been initiated are- Train Collision Avoidance System (TCAS) on High Density Network and Train Protection and Warning System (TPWS) and elimination of unmanned level crossings in a phased manner. Train Collision Avoidance System (TCAS) is a radio communication based system with continuous update of movement authority. This system is aimed at providing capability of preventing train accidents caused due to Signal Passing at Danger (SPAD) or non observance of speed restrictions by train drivers. 

Signal aspect is also displayed on DMI (Driver Machine Interface) screen inside the Locomotive in train system. Train Protection and Warning System (TPWS) is a proven Automatic Train Protection System to avoid train accidents on account of human error of Signal Passing at Danger (SPAD) or over-speeding. Elimination of Unmanned Level Crossings through various means – It has been decided to progressively eliminate all unmanned level crossings by (i) closing unmanned crossings having NIL/negligible Train Vehicle Units (TVUs), (ii) merger of unmanned level crossing with nearby unmanned/manned gates or Road Under Bridge or Road Over Bridge or Subway by construction of diversion road, (iii) provision of Subways/Road Under Bridges.

The Unmanned Level Crossings which cannot be eliminated by the above means will be progressively manned based on the volume of rail road traffic (TVU) and visibility conditions. Furthermore, continuous track circuiting (CTC) is needed on all tracks to detect rail fractures. With CTC, the derailment of the Indore-Patna Express would not have occurred.

The Railways are the second largest governmental organization in our country after the Indian army and it needs be seen more of an asset that contributes at least 2 percent to our GDP rather than just a political tool. Despite all these regulations, and a change of guard, effective implementation of the above steps is the only solution.

Leave a Comment