Millennium Post

Grave concern regarding derailment

Grave concern regarding derailment

The fate of Uttar Pradesh in the recent past has not been a particularly memorable one. With the Gorakhpur incident still fresh in everyone's memory, where over 60 children died due to an unfortunate circumstance of acute shortage of oxygen, tragedy hit the state once again when the Haridwar bound Utkal Express, which was travelling from Puri, Odisha, derailed at Khatauli, just in the outskirts of Muzaffarnagar, barely 100km away from the national capital. This is the second time in the last one year that a train derailment has given birth to significant worry in the heartland of India. This accident comes less than one year after the Indore-Patna Express derailed near Kanpur in November last year leaving over 100 people dead. The growing frequency of train derailments is a source of rising concern that must be investigated by state and Central authorities.

The Indian railway system is one of the largest travel networks in the world. The Indian Railways, on an everyday basis, transports over 8 billion passengers from one location to another, carrying not only palpable lives but also hard earned resources, livestock and livelihoods. It is the backbone of our growing economy which is still less centred on technology and remains largely reliant on the muscle of toiling labour. The railways have been an indispensable aspect of India's growth, with goods trains and passenger trains both facilitating the physical movement of India's spiralling economy. Over the last several decades, the railways have grown in popularity, with larger numbers of the population taking to the tracks as an easier mode of conveyance, often to transport even farm produce and livestock.

Understood as one the boons of the British colonial rule in India, railways have truly been a harbinger of modernity along with telecommunications. However, what was once a pride of the country has now reached its abysmal autumn. Despite its growing popularity with citizens, especially for residents in semi-urban and rural areas, who have optimistically taken to the multi-wheeled track conveyance, railways today continue to cry out in an urgent demand for rejuvenation. The system that glorified the country in the early 1900s cannot continue to do so today if left in the same stagnant capacity. It must be refurbished to suit the needs of modern society and its unstoppable population. A recent report by the Standing Committee on Railways on safety and security stated that underinvestment in the railways is one major hindrance that is in fact, causing a large number of rail accidents.
The report further said that, while passenger and freight traffic has increased by 1,344 per cent and 1,642 per cent respectively from 1950 to 2016, the Railways' route kilometres have increased by only 23 per cent. There is a glaring gap between what could be understood as a demand for the railways and a corresponding supply that would match the erstwhile demand. While our population has grown, and the economy has witnessed a shift from engagement in agriculture to employment in tertiary sector activities there has been a growing demand for the railways as the most appropriate method for transportation from rural to semi-urban/urban areas. Further, as markets have consolidated and farmers have begun commercialising their own ventures, this same railway has provided the basis for reaching out to prospective suppliers and gaining access to markets. While the railways have allowed for a proliferation of our economy, it has not gained back its due return from the same growing economy, which has invested little thought in protecting and further boosting this sector.
Another observation of the Standing Committee stated that railways should immediately switch to using only Linke-Hoffman Busche(LHB) coaches to reduce the intensity of derailments as these coaches do not pile on top of another as was witnessed in yesterday's unfortunate accident at Khatauli. The Utkal Express did not have the desired LHB coaches which led to several coaches piling on another, leading to the instant death of many passengers onboard the Haridwar bound train. In the last one year, close to 250 people have lost their lives in cases of train derailment; a most horrific way to lose one's life amidst a crisis emanating sorely out of somebody else's negligence.
While investigations are still underway to ascertain the exact causes that led to the derailment of the Utkal Express, allegations so far suggest that maintenance work was being carried out on the tracks, of which the loco-pilot had not been informed. Thirteen coaches of the Utkal Express jumped the track, with one coach even going and hitting against the wall of an adjacent residential building. Over twenty people have so far lost their lives, and over forty have been injured in the mishap. Rescue operations continued until late on Saturday night, as 140-tonne cranes were put into the service of those still ailing within the claustrophobic chambers of the collapsed train. Repair work on tracks requires a regulated management, where station masters are alerted and they thereafter provide appropriate signals to passing trains. The Khatauli station-master denied receiving any information regarding repair work being conducted on the tracks. Under such circumstances of repair work, a train is ideally desired to run at a speed of 10-15kmph or is often halted for 15-20 minutes before it resuming its journey. The Utkal Express was running at a speed of close to 110kmph when the accident occurred, under no fault of the loco-driver who had anyway not been issued any signals of ongoing track repair work. This is a sign of utmost negligence.
Passenger trains, especially long-distance trains, carry travellers numbering in thousands, and a simple negligence can threaten the lives of as many citizens of the country who deserve to be protected and not sacrificed by simple mismanagement. After the first five coaches crossed the repair spot the remaining coaches derailed with two coaches ramming into a house and a college building. It was an evening of horror for those abound the Utkal Express. Cries filled the dark night at Khatauli as rescue operations continued and passengers frantically looked for their lost relatives and friends.
It was an unfortunate night in India's state governance, as yet again due to negligence the common man fell prey to lose his life, family, friends and sanctity. Authorities must stand up to take note of the repeated cases of train derailment and minor accidents that are proving to be burdensome for our economy and civil society. Since 2014 there have been twenty rail accidents, including minor incidents, with casualties being reported in at least nine of these cases. Each citizen deserves and expects the state to protect its life before crucifying it in the hands of simple negligence, or bad governance. It is time to bring back focused investment on to the Indian Railways which has truly been the backbone of our growing economy, assisting in the migration of labour, quick transportation of essential goods and services, and easing the way for effective governance. A facilitator of easy governance, such as the railways, cannot fall victim to the fallacies of governance - that would be an unfortunate irony which would crash the hopes of our growing democracy which largely relies on this very method for its survival and sustenance.
It is high time, or even beyond time, to buckle up and take action to contain the deep crisis that is knocking on the door of Indian Railways.

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