Over 20 passengers were killed and 22 injured -- most of them women and children -- when the Goa Express rammed into a stationary Mewar express near Mathura early on Wednesday morning. The engine of the Goa express hit the rear of the Mewar express, causing severe damage to the last coach and derailing several others. Preliminary reports point to human failure, though the last word on the signalling system has not been said yet. In such cases of collision between two trains, there can be two possible causes -- either signal failure or human failure by way of ignoring the signal. The inquiry by the Commissioner of Railway Safety will fix the responsibility, but what assumes importance is the follow-up action. Accidents such as this are not uncommon in the massive Railway network in the country. Every one of them has been followed by an inquiry and every such exercise has yielded a host of suggestions on measures to be adopted for averting the mishaps. While mechanical or electrical failure can be dealt with, the railway authorities have not yet been able to come to terms with human failure.

When the crew of a train see a red signal, they are supposed to stop for two minutes if it is night, and one minute during day time, and then proceed with caution. They are provided with walkie-talkie sets to get in touch with the nearest railway station, ascertain the situation, and act as it warrants. Given this, it is surprising that such a communication had not taken place in the high-density Mathura-Delhi route. Did the communication equipment fail, or were the crew oblivious to these basic safety requirements? It is up to the Commissioner of Railway Safety and the Railway Board to get to the bottom of what went wrong and where, and fix responsibility. The Konkan Railway designed an anti-collision device, which has reportedly gone through trials and been fitted on trains operating in certain high-risk sectors. There was supposed to be a time-bound programme for fitting these devices on all trains. Millions of people who travel by trains will look to Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee for ensuring that safety concerns are addressed with a sense of urgency. The Railways must wrap up the investigation quickly and come out with the whole truth. A systematic programme of retraining and re-orientation of the railway staff is imperative to keep them alert and safety-conscious.

More In: Editorial | Opinion