In yet another accident that has hit the Railways, at least 21 passengers were killed and nearly 150 injured when the engine and four coaches overturned after a derailment in Raigad district of Maharashtra on Sunday. The surprising factor was that the engine itself derailed as the Diva-Sawantwadi Road passenger train emerged out of a tunnel, some 120 km from Mumbai, in broad daylight. Always quick on follow-up, the Railways swung into action on rescue and relief operations, payment of compensation and the announcement of an inquiry by the Commissioner of Railway Safety. It took some time for the authorities to clear the main line on the Konkan Railway route because of the impact of the derailment. Considering that it was nearly 10 a.m. and the passengers were awake, and that it was a passenger train, the casualty level seems to be on the high side. Four coaches had overturned — and photographs showed the full impact of the derailment — but the deaths should have been caused by the crush of materials in the coaches. Escaping from the coach may not have been too difficult at that point of time; the Railways must make more room for emergency exits in each compartment. The detailed probe by the Commissioner of Railway Safety should throw more light on what caused the derailment.

Preliminary reports from the accident site point to a possible rail fracture at the spot. Perhaps welded joints gave way. Normally, gangmen examine a certain length of the railway line twice a day. Depending on the location, each gangman may have to oversee a length of about 8 km. How did the engine crew fail to sight the fracture? Was the train going faster than the permissible limit? The reason for the fracture, and why this was not seen or reported by the person in charge of that area, will need close examination. There have been enough probes by successive Commissioners of Railway Safety inquiring into different accidents across the country. What is more, the Kakodkar committee appointed by the Government of India to look at all aspects of railway safety, submitted a very detailed report with exhaustive recommendations. Issues of funding have also been addressed to finance a wide range of safety measures to be implemented in the railway system. That being the case, it is surprising that the Centre and the Railways do not seem to be taking safety and security on the wheels seriously enough. Derailments will surely come under the category of avoidable accidents, and the zonal railways must be pulled up if they are not monitoring railway tracks constantly and carefully enough. It is unfortunate that even repeated accidents do not spur the Railways into more serious action to address safety issues.

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