Hours before the train accident in Uttar Pradesh Saturday, the website of a weekly newsmagazine put up the results of a survey in which an astounding 58 per cent of respondents felt that the Indian s had shown significant improvement over the past three years. This is despite the fact that there have been 586 rail accidents over the past five years, of which more than half were due to derailment.
The deadlier ones include the November 20, 2016 derailment of the Indore-Patna Express near Kanpur which killed 150. Two British tourists were killed when the Shivalik Queen, a chartered train from Kalka to Shimla, derailed on September 12, 2015. A month earlier, at least 30 people were killed after the Kamayani Express and the Janata Express derailed near Kudawa railway station in south western Madhya Pradesh, as tracks had been washed away by floods.
So what explains this immense public satisfaction with the state of the Railways? According to the survey, the main reasons for this appear to be the focus on improving passenger experience and complaint redressal through social media. On-board food quality and amenities at stations have improved dramatically over the past few years, while more than 32,000 bio-toilets have been fitted in trains over the past years, compared to 10,000 such toilets fitted over the last decade.
More importantly, despite reports of bedding not being washed for months and other service-related issues, the mere fact that an aggrieved passenger can reach out to the Railway top brass to address his problem appears to have gone down well with the 22 million people who use Indian Railways each day.
The social media cell receives over 1,000 actionable tweets and over 200 complaints on Facebook each day, and these are addressed by a social media monitoring team which functions round the clock out of New Delhi’s Rail Bhavan. While attempts to address rail safety are also on, the latest accident shows that much more needs to be done on that front.