Millennium Post

Insecure tracks for a national lifeline

The hike in rail fare barring the revision in suburban commuting up to 80 kms was intended as a rectifier to bring the sprawling network (Asia’s largest, world’s second largest, under one management, with a separate ministry and its own annual budget) under a semblance of control and order. The rationale peddled by the Centre was to shed the excess flab of oversubsidised rail travel by factoring in some of the curable maladies in the sector, and increasing passenger fare by 14.5 per cent and freight charges by over 6 per cent to raise Rs 8,000 crore annually. Passenger business accounts for over 60 per cent of Indian Railways’ costs but until now yielded barely 30 per cent of the total revenues. So despite the ensuing furore over the fare hike, it is perhaps inevitable and irreversible until institutional corruption and nepotism is weeded out from the sector. Yet, what the steep fare hike hasn’t strived to address yet is the gaping hole within the railway edifice: its appalling security system, the unimaginably high rate of train accidents, and the shoddy state of its operations. With the Delhi-Dibrugarh Rajdhani Express derailing in Bihar’s Chhapra district and killing five persons and injuring many more, the tally of mishaps simply refuses to come down. Although some suspect this to be a Maoist sabotage, since there was a strike called in the area to protest rail fare hike and explosives have been recovered in nearby regions, it goes without saying that negligence on the part of authorities would still be integral to the frequent logistical and safety failures in the Indian Railways.

    There is no second opinion that our railways suffer from fundamental deficiencies which have remained unaddressed for years now. Despite repeated pleas from activists, transportation experts and conscientious bureaucrats within the railways, none of the problems were fixed and continued to plague the system for years. The tracks are old and dilapidated, needing immediate and extensive repair work, and therefore cause the most number of accidents. Speed restrictions are not followed despite the condition on the ground. On the one hand trains are overrun and routinely stretch their plying limits, on the other, the basic safety mechanisms and brakes remain unupdated in the case of most locomotives. Overcrowded trains and negligence of both railway employees and the passengers are two other major causes of worry, but do not make anyone within the railways raise an eyebrow over the miserable mendacity of the officials and the ministers to revamp the lackadaisical operations of our railways. Systemic corruption has turned the common man’s lifeline into a line of fire, with routine accidents and loss of precious human lives becoming merely stale headlines. So, while rail fare hike has a basis, the terrible state of Indian Railways continues to baffle the mind. Alongside heavy investment from the government with some private partnership wherever required, the railways need to plug the massive cracks and provide value for money.
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