India’s deadliest train accident in six years, derailment of the Indore-Patna Express, about 60 km from Kanpur, in the wee hours of Sunday which claimed over 120 lives, is a reminder that much more needs to be done to streamline rail safety. The coaches that bore the brunt were two old ones which ought to have been replaced. It’s not always possible to replace old coaches, given the resource constraints, but the Anil Kakodkar committee that had gone into the question of rail safety had clearly sought newer coaches for trains. A complete switchover to Linke Hofmann Bush coaches from the current Indian Integral Coach Factory coaches had been recommended by the Kakodkar panel but there was lack of seriousness in doing so. The failure of the Railways to maintain the rail infrastructure well and abject failure also in taking precautionary measures against flash floods, landslides and falling boulders had of late caused an increase in accidents.
One of the reasons cited for high casualties is that the mishap occurred at a time when the passengers were fast asleep and were caught unawares. Early diagnosis has identified the main cause as ‘rail fracture’ due to expansion of the track in summer and contraction in winter. If this is confirmed by a detailed inquiry it would show that track management was deficient. Steps would therefore be required to see that deficiencies are ironed out for future and there is better track management.
There are also reports that the train was overcrowded. While rail officials claimed that there were 1,200 passengers on board, actually over 2,000 were believed to have been travelling when the accident occurred. Many of them were waitlisted or ticketless travellers. It is indeed a hard reality that trains passing through UP, MP and Bihar are often overcrowded and there is inadequate enforcement of discipline in these trains. Steps need to be taken to prevent such overcrowding because groups of ticketless travellers are known to even intimidate railway officials and women passengers. Another fact that has emerged is that the train driver had noticed an unusual jerk a bare four minutes before the derailment but after stopping to check if anything was wrong, the driver re-started the train, apparently unable to diagnose what was the cause of the jerks.
Another fact that has emerged is that only 30 per cent of the passengers who booked tickets on the IRCTC website for that train had opted for insurance even though the premium was a measly 92 paise. The scheme itself was a worthy one with compensation of Rs 10 lakh in the event of death or total disability, Rs 7.5 lakh for partial disability and upto Rs 2 lakh for partial disability. Clearly, there is much for the proposed inquiry to look into. Lessons need to be learnt and action taken against those who were found wanting in the discharge of their duties. We can ill afford to cover up for those who are found guilty of dereliction of duty.