The derailment of the Gorakhdham Express on its way from Delhi to Gorakhpur on Monday, following a collision in broad daylight, was most certainly a preventable tragedy. The speeding express train rammed into a stationary goods train at Chureb, leading to the derailment of the engine and six coaches. The first coach was mangled beyond recognition and the impact of the collision and derailment presented a tragic sight. Though the final casualty figures have not been released, anywhere from 20 to 30 passengers are feared killed. Another 100 were injured. Rescue and relief operations were hampered because of the condition of the coaches. Cutters and specialised equipment were needed to rip open the coaches and release many of the trapped passengers. As always, the Railway administration was quick to swing into action to organise relief operations and arrange for treatment of the injured and restoration of the track. The Indian Railways has managed to perfect this system of coordinating rescue and relief after every accident — and the number may be rising again. With a new government assuming office on the same day, the new Railway Minister, D.V. Sadananda Gowda, may face quite a few challenges in handling the mammoth portfolio of Railways — from finances and projects to safety and passenger amenities. This may be the best time for the government and the Railway Board to launch a serious review of its entire functioning and put the system firmly on the rails for the next phase of growth.
What makes the latest tragedy significant is that the accident took place a little after 10 a.m. and the goods train was stationary. Even if there was a signal failure, which seems likely, the driver of the express train could have seen the train ahead and stopped. The inquiry by the Commissioner of Railway Safety should determine if there was indeed a rail fracture, as has been reported. But the question remains as to how both trains were on the same line. It is this kind of a tragedy that detracts from the otherwise consistent performance of the Indian Railways. There have been many reports dealing with the functioning of the Railways and the Kakodkar Committee submitted a detailed and substantive report. Railway Ministers in the previous government had not mustered the political will to restructure the fares in a manner that would provide for the funding of major initiatives in railway safety. In fact, a corpus was created in the last decade to finance a clutch of safety projects on the system. It now boils down to a question of monitoring, implementation and raising the standards of the staff — especially those in critical functions. If the new government could take this up and follow it through to a time-bound implementation stage, it would make a substantial contribution to the Railways and the millions of people it carries daily.