he accident involving two trains running over a crowd witnessing Ravan Dahan late Friday on the outskirts of Amritsar is a reminder of the tragedy of not learning from experiences from the past. It is pointless blaming the railways for the accident that claimed over 60 lives. Many people and organisations can be held accountable for the tragedy and wrong decisions taken, but none of it supersedes the irresponsibility shown by people themselves in placing their own lives at risk. One key argument that was being put forward by survivors of or witnesses to the mishap is that the trains did not hoot as they sped towards the crowd. However, people are also saying the fireworks were so loud that they could hear nothing else. The spectacle of Ravana in effigy burning down to ashes, going up in fire and explosions was seemingly so engrossing that nobody even realised that the trains were trundling down towards them. One video shot by a bystander shows how the trains arrive all on a sudden, taking people by surprise. The video, however, clearly has a recording of the audio of a train or the trains blaring their horns. One accusation here is that the manned level crossing from which at least one train could have been signalled to cut on speed failed to do so. But the railways have claimed that they were not informed of the event or requested to exercise caution in approaching the area. According to them, the loco pilot of the train running on the high-speed track did attempt to slow the train down and managed to bring it to under 70 kmph, which may have reduced the toll. Clearly, this is not a mishap that the railways should be held accountable for. The responsibility for the safety of people should rest with people themselves. Trains should have the right of way on tracks as they are meant to run to a time schedule. People who choose to trespass on to railway tracks just to witness a spectacle are behaving in a reckless manner. This is undoubtedly a tragedy of the highest order but it is one that is for the most part that of the people’s own making. Railway tracks should not be treated as galleries to witness events. The lesson was delivered long ago in north Kerala when several people were crushed by an express train as they sat on the tracks witnessing the fireworks display as part of a temple festival. That was not a time of mobile phones and other facilities and the death went unnoticed for a while as the screams of people were drowned out by the noise of the pyrotechnics display. In that incident, too, the people were unable to hear the train approach or hoot its horn. The country is also not alien to accidents at unmanned level crossings. The railways has always aired messages through multiple media to keep people alert to the dangers of being on or close to railway tracks. While the families that have been affected by this mishap definitely deserve the utmost of sympathy for the way in which tragedy has struck them, this is also a time for all to learn the lesson at least now that railway tracks are never places to witness spectacles, no matter what vantage they may offer. The Amritsar tragedy could definitely have been avoided.
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