Friday, May 25, 2012

HAMPI EXPRESS ACCIDENT: Are we really doing enough?

More than a century later, after the first railway line between Mumbai and thane started operating in the 1850’s, the indian railway network has grown both in volume and reach across the country. The organization that is operated by the Govt. of India holds several records and achievements to its credit.

From providing a cheap and affordable form of transportation to its economically backward population, the railways also operates Ultra Luxury services like ‘Palace on Wheels’ for the uber rich class. However much to the apathy, the organization also suffers from Crippling issues that it has failed to encounter effectively.
While modernization, end to end connectivity, Super fast trains , Electrification, Frequency of service, etc appear as distant dream, the absolutely essential requirements like Passenger Safety, Vehicle safety, Reliable rail traffic control , adequate train services to match the passenger volume , railway infrastructure etc are few of the issues that have been raising plaguing the organization.

The rural population in our country has been our backbone ever since the country has seen economic growth, yet it also discerning to know that a vast majority of this population leaves in tragic conditions and are widely unemployed. In such a situation like this, it becomes absolutely necessary that these people traverse places in search of economic prosperity to afford a living. The rail transport has always been looked up by these people with much reverence for their transportation.

Unlike the west, in India there exists a wide gap between the cost of Rail and road transportation. To picture an example an unreserved chair class ticket in a passenger train from Mysore to Bangalore costs Rs.21, the same class in a govt. runs State bus transport costs Rs. 80 odd Rupees. Thus rail services come naturally as the most preferred form of transport for the masses at places where there is railway services.

While the indian railway has made no significant progress in technology updation or infrastructure betterment in the last several decades, it has neither brought in place a robust railway traffic safety system that runs and operates error free and is human independent. The most recent Hampi Express tragedy brings into limelight a sad reality of how a human error has claimed the lives of 25 people and injured many more in the process.

Often it is the poor who are at receiving end of these mistakes, since they have no representation and more so because nobody values their life as important as those of people travelling in Air with luxury. The real causes for these accidents have also been the same and they occur at the rate of atleast 1 or 2 in a month consistently. It is absolutely apathetic that in the modern age of 2012, we are losing valuable human lives due to naive rail accidents that involve driver overshooting signals, trains ramming into each other, derailing, etc.

I do not deliberate into the technicalities of these accidents; I wish to believe that not enough has been done to root out such human error claiming precious lives of people. What could be more heartbreaking than to hear a case of rail accident due to train overshooting a signal, a reason for this being attributed to driver dozing or similar reasons like misalignment of tracks due to operator mistakes. We live in the age oftechnological marvels and we are helpless to see 1000’s of people losing lives every year due to outdated error prone traffic safety systems and staff that the railways run on. It’s just not about the people alone, there is a huge loss occurring through damage of property, railway infrastructure, etc.

Then there is a problem of overcrowding at general compartments due to non-availability of seats, as was the case with the ill fated Hampi Express. Every unreserved coach was filled with 120 people against its seating capacity of 60, what is even more appalling to know is every train has 3 or 4 of these general compartments as against 15 to 20 of reserved coaches and these unreserved coaches are always equally divided and shunted both in the front of the train and the back of the train. So no matter, this trains rams into another train or another train rams into this one, the people at the unreserved class bear the first brunt of the tragedy, this fact was evident from the recent tragedy as well. These are people without representation and with a voice that is unheard. They are always on the losing end.

So at the end of the day we come across many questions that need to be answered by the govt.

So is the modern technology for manning the rail traffic system missing in place?
Yes it is.

Why is this not implemented in place?

Indian railways with an installed track length of close to 115000 Kms is one of the largest railway network in the world. The budget for modernization is huge. It requires immense political will to bring about these implementations. The successive governments till date have only utilized railway portfolio to secure their vote banks and mostly bring un uniform development resulted in regional disparity. A solid focus and immense will power is required to bring these developments into the railways and can be implemented phase by phase.

The need of the hour is to act and not speculate or anticipate. We need to come up with a technical committee comprising of government representatives and industrial experts. This committee shall immediately take into the modalities of the current situation and advice suitably on how concentrated safety features are brought about in the rail network. While natural calamities and unexpected incidents cannot be prevented. It is upon us to foresee in advance incidents like train collision, Misalignment in track, Bomb Explosion, Derailment of coaches and prevent any accidents that arise out of these causes

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