Railways must plug security loopholes
The commonality of circumstances involving two train accidents just 60 km from each other in Bihar seems to suggest something more than a coincidence. In the first incident, around Tuesday midnight 12 coaches of a goods train carrying iron ore derailed near Motihari, in East Champaran district.
Around two hours later, soon after 2 am, the prestigious Delhi-Dibrugarh Rajdhani Express derailed near Chhapra, killing four people and injuring several others. While the causes of the two accidents will be investigated by the commissioner of railway safety, the fact that the Maoists had called for a bandh in Saran and Tirhut police ranges for Wednesday has perhaps led the railway minister, who was obviously briefed by railway officials, to not rule out sabotage. But Union home minister Rajnath Singh said it was too early to cry sabotage. Bihar’s chief minister also seemed to share the same view in his first reaction.
First reports on a TV channel suggested that 17 pandrol clips, which hold the rails and sleepers together were found scattered in the area, suggesting that someone had removed them. This would have been quite a task. There are various theories going around with a bit of political spice added by former railway minister Lalu Prasad Yadav, who said lapses on the part of the authorities should be ascertained. If, as he says, the Rajdhani is always preceded by a pilot engine, then it would have to be ascertained if this pilot engine was there, and if not, then why not. This would suggest a lapse on the part of the railways, particularly since the Maoists had called for a bandh on Wednesday.
The need of the hour is for the new rail minister to start an urgent review of the safety aspects of the railways. The Indian rail network is the fourth-largest in the world and carries the largest number of commuters in the world daily. This is the fifth derailment in four months and the second during the government of Narendra Modi. Nearly 60 to 70 lives have been lost in this period, with untold hardships to those injured. While protecting a 64,000-km network is a Herculean task, particularly for the cash-starved Indian Railways, technology and all other means must be used to increase safety and security on the rails. There has been no great expansion of the railways even 67 years after the British left. Being strapped for cash cannot be an excuse, nor can foreign direct investment be the only answer for the railway’s woes. One has only to compare the cost of coaches made by our Integral Coach Factory with the cost of those we have imported to wonder how much FDI will help.