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A Beautiful And Comfortable Railways Would Be Great, But What About Safety?

By Gaurav Singhal:

In the last week of January 2016, two tragic losses of life, one at the railway station of Dadar and the other at Borivali in Mumbai, made the headlines. Both incidents were recorded by CCTV cameras installed at the stations. Before long, the videos of these two gruesome accidents went viral on social media and TV networks.

In this video from the Borivali Railway station, a woman tries to jump off a train but accidentally slips and is crushed between the platform and the moving train. A man, probably her son or a family member, himself slips and falls on the platform in his failed attempt to pull that woman out. The most tragic part of the video is seeing that man trying to stop the moving train with his hands.

Viewer Discretion Advised

In this video from Dadar railway station, a man tries to board the local train while it is moving. Mumbai local trains are infamous for the rush and open doors. The man in this video keeps running but falls off the platform in the end.

Viewer Discretion Advised

According to news reports, both of them died on the spot due to gruesome and critical injuries. Both videos point out the callousness of the railway department and the irresponsible attitude of the people with regard to their own lives. The responsibility lies with both the railways and the victims.

The Killing Gap

The majority of Indians prefer railways for long journeys. Most of us have witnessed the sad realities of our railway network. One of them is the design of our trains and platforms. There is a huge gap between the train and the platform. You can see this ‘killing gap’ in the first video of Borivali railway station. The risk of falling into this gap increases during rush hour.

Learn From The Delhi Metro

I am not an expert in railway designs. But I have seen major national and international railway systems without that huge gap between the train and platform. For example, this gap isn’t there in the Delhi metro railway network. I am a frequent commuter in the Delhi Metro and I can say that it is perhaps the safest rail network in India. No open doors. No killing gaps. Therefore, no running and jumping for boarding or de-boarding the train. Delhi Metro Railway Corporation (DMRC) is also planning to install ‘platform doors’ at its major stations to avoid any accidents. The system of automated platform doors already exists in Delhi Metro’s airport line. Platform doors, though expensive, make the platform completely safe from such accidents. To board the train, a passenger must wait for the platform doors to open, then, for the train doors to open.

Funds Are Needed

Indian railways have a dismal safety record. There is a need to develop safer designs for our trains and railway platforms. The aim must be to make our journey more safe than comfortable. Funds are required to realise this aim. Given the sheer size of Indian railways, the re-designing will take both time and money. But the pertinent question is: Do we even give any priority to safety? It seems that we don’t.

Safety Must Take Priority Over Beauty

Safety must take precedence over aesthetics. According to the notification issued by the Ministry of Railways, Government of India on 10th April 2015 on the Press Information Bureau’s website and recent reports in newspapers, the railways seem to be taking a lot of interest in beautification. The notification suggests that a memorandum of understanding has been signed between the Indian Railways and the Commerce & Industry Ministry to establish a new Railway Design Centre at the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad. In January 2016, Indian railways opened its newly designed ‘beautiful’ and ‘comfortable’ coaches to the media. News channels were hungry to get a glimpse of these world class interiors. In social media, the response was praiseworthy towards the current government.

Here is a video of these newly designed coaches:

With the newly designed bio-toilets installed in our coaches, no human excreta is going to directly fall on the railway tracks. Now we don’t have to worry anymore about using the toilets when the train is at a railway station. Many thanks to the Modi government for not letting human excreta fall on the railway tracks. No doubt, government’s effort in making India clean are praiseworthy. But what about a human being falling onto the tracks? When will our government sign MoUs to prevent that?

Issue Of Safety Is Dead

Amidst all this colourful euphoria, the issue of safety appears dead. The emphasis is rather on ‘Swachh Bharat’ (Clean India) and ‘beautiful India’. We do need a clean and beautiful railway network but not at the cost of safety. I, personally, would not have any problem travelling in pale blue coaches as long as they are safe. Let’s first address the issues of safety. The bullet trains and beautiful trains can wait until we re-design our platforms and trains.

Appoint Marshals Or Volunteers For The Opening And Closing Of Gates

Given the financial health of our railways, installation of automatic doors and platform doors in major railway stations remains only a dream. However, there are some steps and strategies which can help avoid these unfortunate accidents. We can appoint Train/Railway security marshals for the task of closing and opening the gates of coaches. If appointing marshals is not within our budget, then, at least, two passengers travelling in every coach can volunteer for this job. A communication channel can be installed in every coach so that these volunteers can speak to the driver and give appropriate instructions like ‘doors are closed’ and ‘we are good to go’. I hope the bright minds working in the upper echelons of our bureaucracy will pay heed to the issue of passenger safety.

Irresponsible Attitude Of People

The government will act at a date and time of its choosing. While we wait for that, the responsibility lies with us to guide and teach our parents, children and loved ones. The lessons are simple and most of us already follow them. 1. Don’t try to board a moving train. 2. Don’t jump off the train before it halts completely.

The same can happen to our loved ones. Before the Indian Railways wakes up from its slumber, we need to become responsible ourselves. Don’t take risks while boarding or de-boarding a train. Travel safe.

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