Railway expansion and safety upgrade must be in consonance
Forty-eight hours have passed, but India is yet to come to terms with the catastrophic three-train crash at Bahanaga Bazar Station in Odisha’s Balasore district. So far, 275 lives have been lost and over 1,100 injured in one of the deadliest rail mishaps the country has seen. The scale of the disaster was such that Prime Minister Narendra Modi flew down to ground zero to take stock of the situation, and Railway Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw stayed put at the site overseeing all rescue and restoration operations. While the preliminary investigation pointed at a combination of technical and human error over the signal and line locking system, the Railway Board on Sunday evening went ahead and recommended a CBI probe into the mishap, adding a curious turn to the cause of the mishap.
However, an accident of this magnitude and consequence has raised serious questions about the country’s railway infrastructure and safety. Railway modernisation has been a major thrust of the Modi government, with dreams of bullet trains running on the country’s tracks. The much-touted semi-high speed Vande Bharat expresses are being launched across the country as a precursor. Stations are being redeveloped into world-class airport-like facilities. The Ministry of Railway this year was handed the highest-ever outlay of Rs 2.4 lakh crore that focused on massive network expansion, new trains and technology upgrades. However, the monumental tragedy of Friday has thrown a spanner to the hype and should force the government to get back to the drawing board to address the most pressing issue – safety.
A recent CAG report found glaring holes in this aspect. It pointed out inadequate resource deployment to Rashtriya Rail Sanraksha Kosh. Besides, implementing safety mechanisms in consonance with the aggressive expansion spree has been a concern. Even though the Railway has developed anti-collision devices like KAVACH, its installation has not been up to the mark. It will be unfair to ignore that the rate of railway accidents has gone down significantly in the past decade. There has been a massive improvement in rail services too. But, one of the world’s largest railway networks spanning a staggering 65,000 km, plied by over 21,000-odd trains which transport 1.3 crore people daily and over 1400 million tonnes of freight annually, clearly needs fundamental bottom-up upgradation. A mishap of this nature cannot be condoned in this era. Bahanaga should be an eye-opener.