Indian Railways: Safety must be a work in progress

Source:  www.hindustantimes.com

Any railway accident is lamentable, but more so when it could have been prevented with a little foresight and proper communication. The two trains that derailed on a rickety bridge which was flooded in Madhya Pradesh fall into this category.

As usual, we see arguments, even from former railway ministers about why India should not focus on bullet trains when it has not done enough about the upgrade and safety of the existing system. This is not an either-or situation. While bullet trains should be introduced where feasible, the existing network should be constantly upgraded and monitored.

Around 23 million people use the railway network each day and this makes it imperative that modernisation is an ongoing process. Lack of sufficient budget is a valid reason, but this can be remedied if the government is ready to bite the political bullet.

The answer lies in raising passenger fares at periodic intervals and not just freight charges. But passenger fare is a political hot potato and one which is perceived as having the potential to alienate voters if hiked now and again. It is no secret that vast tracts of tracks are outdated and pose a danger to traffic.

Level-crossings are often not manned and coaches lack fire safety measures. The skills of the huge workforce, which run the railways, too must be upgraded along with the infrastructure. The railways has, by the admission of successive ministers, large reserves of real estate. These have to be put to productive use or disposed off to raise revenues.

In keeping with the government’s push for Digital India, what the railways urgently need is better technology. This can prevent so many man-made errors. This can be used for early warning about dangers on the tracks, oncoming rail traffic and smoother coordination in the huge and sprawling network. More info

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