New Government must improve rail safety
Even as the rest of the country celebrated the swearing-in of the new Government, the Gorakhdham Express train tragedy that has already claimed 25 lives, served as a strong reminder for the many challenges that lie ahead for Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his administration. On Monday, just hours before dignitaries from across the country and the neighbourhood began arriving at the majestic forecourt of Rashtrapati Bhavan, the Gorakhpur-bound passenger train rammed into a stationary freight train near Churaib railway station in the district of Sant Kabir Nagar in Uttar Pradesh. Six bogeys of Gorakhdham Express were crushed. Uttar Pradesh State officials fear that as many as 40 people may have died. It is not clear as yet if the accident was due to a mechanical fault or a human error or even a combination of both; however, what is beyond doubt is that this is one accident too many. 2014 seems to have been a particularly bad year. Not even six months into the year, there have already been three major train accidents. Earlier this month, six bogies of the Diva-Sawantwadi passenger train derailed along the Konkan Railway route in Raigad district of Maharashtra, killing at least 18 people and injuring more than a 100. Prior to that, in February, three passengers lost their lives and 37 others were injured when 10 coaches of the Nizamuddin-Ernakulam Lakshadweep Mangala Express train derailed at Ghoti, about 35 kms from Nashik. In January, three air-conditioned coaches of the Bandra-Dehradun Express caught fire near Surat. Four passengers were burnt alive while another five suffocated to death. Just about 10 days earlier, on December 28, 2013, a similar fire in the AC coach of the Bangalore-Nanded Express had killed 26 passengers. Months before that, in August 2013, 37 pilgrims, including women and children who had just deboarded the Samastipur-Saharsa passenger train and were standing on the adjacent rail tracks, were mowed down by the Saharsa-Patna Rajyarani Express in Bihar's Khagaria district.
The reason behind listing these major train tragedies that have happened in just the past 12 months is not only to jog the notoriously short public memory, but also to ask some important follow-up questions. In most cases, investigations were ordered to find the cause of the accidents. What came of those efforts? Were the reports made public? Were the guilty given punishment? Apart from suspending or firing the occasionally callous (and often over-worked and under-paid) train driver, have higher-ups in the Rail Ministry ever been held responsible? It is indeed in this regard that the new Government will have to bring about a perceptible change. And a good place to start is the plethora of reports and recommendations, prepared over the years, advising successive Governments on how to improve rail safety, that have been gathering dust in sarkari offices.The new Minister for Railways is a competent person; he must set the ball rolling.