The train accident at Sitteri near Chennai on Wednesday morning killing one and injuring 50, some of them seriously, gives a lie to the claims by successive railway ministers that everything was being done to improve train safety. It is a tragic coincidence that two years ago, Sitteri witnessed a major accident in which nine persons were killed. Between then and now, a special railway safety fund was set up to mend decaying tracks, repair bridges and introduce safety measures. It seems more has happened on paper, than on tracks, signal systems and trains.
Only an inquiry — statutorily ordered every time a rail accident occurs — will reveal what led to the derailment of 11 coaches of the Muzaffarpur-Yeshwantpur Express. Whatever be the cause, it will not satisfy the passenger who has zero-tolerance for accidents. He cannot be blamed because when he buys a ticket to travel, he expects to board the train and reach the destination on time. The sole rationale for the railways to exist is to serve him and if it fails to do so, it has no right to exist. In other words, safety is not something the railways can ignore, except at their peril. They should do everything possible to rule out accidents.
Every railway minister takes pride in introducing new trains but he does not bother to check whether the railways’ infrastructure is sufficient to meet the growing needs. It would not be an exaggeration to claim that a large portion of the tracks and a large number of bridges are of British vintage, which need replacement, not repairs. But ever short of money, the railways have been neglecting such needs. Their cavalier attitude is borne out by the fact that nearly 20 per cent posts of station masters remain vacant, as pointed out by the All India Station Masters Association, though they play a crucial role in the railways.