Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Derailed Lives: Thoughts on Kanpur Rail Accident

Image from Indian Express, November 22, 2016

Life is a journey, choose how you end it (Take your pick -road, rail or air).
The average Indian travels through all three modes to get to places in his/her average lifetime. But to cut short the average lifespan, the government has several offers for you. Step on the road, you die; step into a train, you die. Catch a plane, you die. Travel Safe- What are the odds?? Choose a route which is non traffic intensive, a LHB coach, a slow speed train, and yet you may still die. Reports suggest that the Indo-Gangetic plains being traffic intensive are also the most accident prone. Going by these news feeds one might spend a lifetime on the couch just to increase longevity. Safe option. Considering, the railways is still trying to figure out what went wrong in the Kanpur rail accident- track fracture, ICF coach, human error..A probe is still probing this and is yet to declare the culprit. The irony is, in the Rail Vikas Shivir held on Nov 20, 2016, (ill-fated Sunday when accident took place in other part of country) an officer of the Railways presented the bitter financial reality — a shortfall of Rs. 1.2 lakh crore for safety activities for the next five years and the urgent need for creating a rail safety fund, possibly with one-time support from the Ministry of Finance (MOF).

The MOF has declined to contribute full amount but may support 25% of the amount, the rest to be raised through safety cess by the Railways. Yet another cess. What with increased rail fare, sub optimal services, and death looming large over our heads everytime we book tickets, one does not feel particularly safe even with this proposed safety cess. You might argue that there is a rail passenger insurance bundled with your ticket and be rest assured, your kin will be compensated. But the underlying problem remains, why kill when efficiency is the answer. Passenger safety should be a priority and not an incidental feature to the travel plan. In other developed economies, death caused due to rail accidents are a single digit number. Why tighten the purse strings when the real India travels by rail? Get one of the ministers opposing the funding of railway upgradation to travel by an ICF coach and you will get your approval in minutes.

Next time you board the train, before showing your id proof to the TTE,  check if the train is accident proof.  It is high time the railways clean up its act and upgrades its services. No more excuses. Every life is precious. Every life counts. Bring in private players if you need the muscle. But stop the mindless deaths of unsuspecting hordes.
The next time we boast of owning the world’s largest rail network, let’s also add ‘world’s safest’ to it.

P.S: Government has proposed introduction of high speed trains. High speed death any takers?

Harini Shrinivasan