The trending news of the involvement of ISI in the Kanpur train accident is overshadowing the failures of Indian railways. ISI’s involvement could be true, or it might be a political gimmick by BJP on the doorsteps of UP elections. Even If the ISI is somehow involved in it, we cannot ‘directly’ blame ISI for the ‘accident’ in Kanpur. We can’t escape our failures by blaming others for it – this will in turn harm us. Today it’s the ISI – I won’t be surprised if the CIA is somehow blamed tomorrow.
Every time there is a train accident, the question of ‘safety’ in Indian railways is expected to arise. The recent accidents in Uttar Pradesh have again set off a debate on the issue of railway safety in our country. Last month, 15 coaches of the Sealdah-Ajmer Express got derailed on 28th December, 2016, near the Rura railway station, which is around 50 km away from Kanpur. No less than 43 individuals were injured in the mishap that occurred in the early hours of the morning, when the train was passing over a dry trench. Keeping in mind the ‘correct’ reason for the mishap is yet to be found out, ‘thick haze’ in the zone has been referred to as a reason for derailment. Worryingly, this accident comes only a month after the horrendous derailment of Patna-Indore Express, again near Kanpur, that brought about more than 150 fatalities and harmed more than 200. Train accidents because of derailment have been up by 67% in the fiscal year that ended on November 15, 2016.
These two tragedies highlight a major issue when it comes to safety in the Indian railways. I think the ISI will definitely choose better places than these rural areas to carry out their attacks. It seems that enough consideration and resources aren’t being given to this ‘key region’ of our economy. Truth be told, there’s a penchant in the Indian railways to ‘overuse the old resources’ as an alternative to ‘replacing them’. It is evident that the ‘financial health’ of an enormous sector such as Indian Railways is poor, and hence, security and safety measures aren’t prioritised as they should be. Things like the maintenance of tracks and handling fogs in winter should be a regular practice. However, it’s sad to discover that Indian Railways isn’t striving to achieve these basic measures. Often called “the lifeline of our country”, India’s broad rail network operates 12,000 trains a day and the full-length track could circle the entire globe more than one and a half times.
The Times of India reported that 50% of train accidents in the most recent three years have been because of derailments, of which 29% were brought about by track defects. Against this background, it’s far-fetched for a government to publicise the introduction of Bullet and Maglev trains without tending to the ‘essentials’, for example, security and safety issues, first. If you see the pictures of the Indore-Patna Express accident site, you will see that the coaches S1 and S2 got squashed into each other due to the speed of the train. This brought about multiple deaths on the spot itself. Indian Railways currently utilise ICF (Integral Coach Factory) coaches for all of their trains barring a few exceptions. ICF coaches have a long history of squashing into each other, when crashes occur.
The Indian railways need crucial measures, for example, ensuring independent and regular audits of railway safety and the changing of all the old ICF coaches to modern LHB (Link Holfmann Busch) coaches (which are currently used in the Rajdhani, Shatabdi and Duronto rakes) – as proposed by the Anil Kakodkar board in 2012. Out of the 106 proposals suggested by board, the railway ministry had acknowledged 69 recommendations and 19 others partially. Be that as it may, work has begun on just 22 of these proposals in the most recent five years. The board of trustees was constituted in 2012 and the suggestions were to be implemented in five years.
The most important feature of LHB coaches are they do not penetrate into other neighbouring coaches during an accident.Since, there’s no ‘destruction’ of LHB coaches, it will minimise the casualties if there are accidents. LHB coaches have a normal speed of 160 kmph and a top speed of 200 kmph – contrasted with the normal speed of 70 kmph and the top speed of 140 kmph in ICF coaches. The replacement of all ICF coaches with LHB coaches is the solution to minimise human fatalities in rail accidents as of now. Whatever might be the cost, the budget of replacing ICF coaches with LHB coaches will definitely be less than the 97,636 crores worth Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train project. Since the expenditure is extraordinarily high, the fare of the train wouldn’t be less than that of flights. The proposed bullet train budget will cover only a distance of 488kms and would surely cater to the luxuries of the elite class only.
The issue which Indian Railways faces today is that they don’t have enough funds to proceed with all these safety options. Numerous measures have been considered since years, like the Anti-Collison frameworks – frameworks that’ll recognise track breakage and stop the train consequently – and so on. In any case, all of these blueprints fail to be implemented due to the lack of funds. Compromising the necessity and safety of the majority of Indians with the luxury of the elite class is definitely not a commendable move by the government.