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Mend The Railway Tracks First, Bullet Trains Can Wait

Indian Railways is known to be an ‘Imperia in Imperio’ meaning empire within an empire. It is the backbone of Indian economy with connections to major locations of the country, becoming not only a medium of transportation but a lifeline for trade and commerce. We are all proud of the Indian Railways for its extensive network and service to the nation. But a spate of accidents recently has shocked the entire nation. On one side the government is mulling on introducing Maglev trains running at 400 Kmph, and on the other hand, in 2017 itself there have been four major train derailment accidents. The most recent were the Utkal Express on August 19, 2017, and the Kaifiyt Express derailment that happened on the morning of August 23, 2017. These incidents are a shocker as the death and injury tolls for both mishaps were high.

Major Train Accidents in 2017 ( Derailments)

  • August 23, 2017: Kaifiyt Express, over 70 injured (at the time of publication)
  • August 19, 2017: Kalinga Utkal Express; Uttar Pradesh; 23 killed, 80 injured
  • April 15, 2017: Rajya Rani Express; Uttar Pradesh; two dozen injured
  • March 30, 2017: Mahakaushal Express; Uttar Pradesh; 52 injured
  • January 21, 2017: Hirakhand Express; Kuneru, Vizianagaram; 41 killed, over 60 injured

The casual approach towards such incidents is the primary cause of reoccurrence of the accidents. The government’s intent towards governance is evident with its message of ‘Minimum Government, Maximum Governance’ but the rotten system is unyielding. The cause of accidents is not known many times, or even if it is, it is not disclosed due to fear of repercussions. The loss of lives and property is colossal during accidents and can be averted by proper management. Replacement of tracks is a must especially on certain stretches which are at high risk. Trains also need to follow the speed limits on certain tracks.

A major cause of accidents in the Indian railways is due to the derailment of trains. Track failures and subsequent derailments are caused by twin factors–excessive traffic and underinvestment in rail infrastructure. The other reasons are level crossing accidents, collisions, fire etc. Sheer negligence, ineptitude and lackadaisical approach towards maintenance and management are the reasons behind the growing incidents of train accidents. The Gangetic plain is known to be a high-risk area. Every budget plans for new trains are announced to pacify the voters, but there are no plans for the expansion of tracks that are carried out at the same speed. Due to congestion, there is very less track maintenance time between two successive trains, which enhances the risks of derailments and accidents.

87% of the time the accident is caused due to human failure including 51% due to the failure of the railway staff and the rest due to a citzien error such as people crossing unmanned crossing, etc. The current railway staff is overworked, which increases the risk of negligence and poor maintenance. The hiring of human resources needs to be initiated. Unmanned crossings need to be guarded. Education and awareness drives to be taken up in schools near unmanned crossings to stress on personal safety.  With 1.3 billion citizens, there is a lot of pressure on infrastructure resources of the country. It is easy to blame the government, criticise the staff but to work on gaps and challenges is the need of the hour to ensure a safe ‘rail yatra’ for our citizens.

The current administration in its poll promise of 2014 announced the building of Diamond Quadrilateral Project, which would connect the cities of Chennai, Delhi, Kolkata and Mumbai via high-speed rail (HSR). The trains in these stretches would run at the speed of 200 kph. Given the current conditions, it is not difficult to imagine the risk associated with the venture. Currently, in India, trains are running only one stretch of Delhi to Agra with the speed of 160 kph with the Gatiman Express.

Before we set in aggressively to welcome the new, it is important to fortify the old. Spend more on replacing and renovating the existing tracks. Constructing 1 km of the high-speed rail track costs ₹100 crores. The government should rather spend the same amount on track maintenance which would also cost less and ensure the safety of crores using railways for travel.

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