Derailed

The Indian Railways is in a terrible state of inertia right now. There has been a spate of accidents in recent times, which has left the state transporter’s administration and the railway ministry red-faced. The latest is the derailment of Nagpur-Mumbai Duronto Express between Vasind and Asangaon stations early Tuesday.

Thankfully, it has not caused casualties or fatalities unlike the recent Utkal Express derailment, in which people lost their lives. In the current instance, preliminary investigation has indicated that the accident was caused by a landslide.

An investigation is on. Railways minister Suresh Prabhu had offered to resign in the wake of the Utkal Express derailment, which was later established to be the result of negligence on the part of railway officials.

Whether the minister’s so-called resignation is a ploy or it will be accepted, is another matter. But it will not do any good in terms of improving the situation. If anything, it will bring another person who will have new excuses of having to learn the ropes first before taking any decisive action.

That would mean loss of precious time in ensuring better operations of the carrier. The railway authorities, be it the minister or officials, and even the so very active Prime Minister, should look at ways to expedite modernisation of the railways in matters of safety and security to ensure that things are handled more effectively.

The railways offers great potential for generation of employment in new sectors. It needs to create such employment opportunities while phasing out those that are obsolete in the new age of technology.

It may need to find ways to mechanise many operations it currently carries out with the help of manual labour. Many railway accidents in India have been attributed to faulty maintenance of rails and improper communication.

The fact cannot be ignored that while the number of trains operating on the network has increased manifold, the staffing for maintenance work and the tools they are provided with have remained largely unchanged.

There is very little modernisation at the ground level and the railways continues to depend greatly on gangmen for many maintenance tasks. Such vital staff need to be provided with the necessary tools and training that can help them do their work better and with greater efficiency.

As the largest carrier of people in India, and running under constraints, keeping the railways in operation is no mean feat. Sadly, the Modi government unilaterally decided to discontinue with the separate Railway Budget — a trend that was continuing from the start — and clubbed it with the general budget, greatly curtailing the importance of railways in every way.

India has witnessed various railway ministers come and go, each of them focusing on populist regional interests, thereby further damaging the railways and standing in the way of development. In this day and age, it is shameful to see the system of human waste disposal that the Indian railways is still practicing.

Probably no other country on par with India would be dumping human waste right on the tracks. Similarly, while dreaming of bullet trains, India has not been able to ensure basic safety and timings’ schedules.

With hardly any choices in public transport, citizens are forced to travel in unsafe and inefficient carriers. A quick look at our eastern neighbours would reveal how much the world has progressed in terms of communication. With a government hell bent on rhetoric over performance, people are having to pay a heavy price.

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