Indian Railways: Better Safe than Sorry

Dinesh Trivedi aims for a zero death policy at Indian Railways. How?

Ashish K Mishra
Updated: Mar 14, 2012 07:17:09 PM UTC

Former senior principal correspondent at Forbes (India). Since 2008, I have been writing on corporate strategy in the automobiles, clean technology and supply chain space. Before I got onto this assignment, I was part of the team that covered feature articles at The Economic Times. I actually started out as a trainee journalist on the ET desk in 2006. I graduated in commerce from Shri Ram College of Commerce in New Delhi and now live in Mumbai. I love automobiles and spend hours reading up on them and then devote painfully long hours to work on old cars that attract my fancy. Right now I own four cars (my colleagues call them fancy, junk or whatever) and a bicycle which outside my work hours get most of my attention.

“Safety, safety, safety”, said Railway Minister Dinesh Trivedi while presenting the Rail Budget today. He spent a couple of minutes expressing his sadness for the families who lost their kin in the Kanpur rail accident. One which happened at Fatehpur Malwa near Kanpur on 10th July 2011, two days before Trivedi took over as rail minister. “The intensity of pain and misery experienced by the passengers and their relatives continues to haunt me and I have spent sleepless nights. At that very moment, I took a vow to eliminate recurrence of such painful happenings. The death on rail tracks just can never be tolerated and it is not acceptable,” he said. And then very swiftly, the Minister moved on to what Indian Railways is going to do about improving safety.

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His big idea is that ‘safety never sleeps’ and Indian Railways safety standards should compare with the likes in Europe and Japan. Nice. Anyway, let’s take a closer look at what all railways proposes to do to make that happen:

  1. Independent Railway Safety Authority: That’s a good idea. Whenever something goes wrong, it is absolutely important to hold someone accountable. Of course, this authority will have to come up with ideas on what Railways should do to increase safety. There are several projects at a proposal stage which need quick decision making, testing and funding. Will this authority be able to push that agenda?
  2. All unmanned level crossing to be abolished over the next five years because 60-70 percent deaths happen there: Well, the total number of deaths because of unmanned level crossing does not exceed 1, 500 a year. Checked with an expert on this. More people die in Mumbai suburban train accidents than at unmanned level crossings. And there are about 16, 000 unmanned level crossings in India. So what does the railway want to do? Man them? To man each crossing takes 4 people and communication plus logistics and infrastructure to work the thing. The expert says, “This seems like a subversion of the actual problem of accidents. This is not a long term, sustainable idea. The sheer economics of getting it done is crazy." Makes sense if the railways have a zero death policy. Human life is more important to save whatever it takes. Will the Rail-Road Grade Separation Corporation of India add another layer of decision making? It does. 
  3. Train Protection & Warning System (TPWS): Good idea. Something that the railways have known for long but refrained from implementing either because of paucity of funds or poor decision making or both. Train Protection & Warning System (TPWS) ensures automatic application of brakes whenever a driver overshoots a signal at danger, thereby eliminating chances of collision of trains. “To begin with, TPWS is proposed to be installed on more than 3,000 route kms, which would cover the entire automatic signaling territory on Indian Railways,” said the Minister.
  4. Train Collision Avoidance system (TCAS): It was way back in 1999 that Bojji Rajaram, the former managing director of Konkan Railway Corporation indigenously developed a local variant of the Anti-Collision Device (ACD), also known as ‘Suraksha Kawach’. It has been implemented in the Konkan Railway and works very well. The minister said that Research Design and Standards Organisation will continue to evaluate TCAS and various technologies involved in this looks conservative.
  5. Modern signaling: It is mostly on account of either equipment failure, signal failure or human error that accidents occur. The idea of improving signaling with extending already running initiatives like interlocking, complete track circuiting and axle counters (at stations) will help improve safety.

Of course, now Railways has to execute all of this. Much of what Trivedi has talked about is well known and understood. It is the execution where Railways have lagged behind. Now looks like a good time to begin.

Read more: Will Our Trains Ever Be Safe? 

The thoughts and opinions shared here are of the author.

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