There have been two derailments in Bihar overnight, not connected to each other, but raising serious questions on their causes. At least four passengers were killed when the Delhi-Dibrugarh Rajdhani Express derailed near Chapra in the early hours of Wednesday. And not very far from there, 18 bogies of a goods train derailed at Motihari. What is worse, three live bombs were discovered at a place about 20 km from Chapra. While the Railway administration seems convinced that the derailment of the Rajdhani was possibly on account of sabotage, the local administration, including the Bihar police, insists that prima facie there was no sabotage. Pictures of the derailment paint a serious picture of the accident, and considering it happened around 2.15 a.m., and eyewitness accounts that the driver did apply the brakes suddenly, an element of suspicion does creep in: was the track cut, or did the track give in because of the derailment? The first issue that needs to be sorted out in the probe by the Commissioner of Railway Safety is whether or not this derailment was a case of sabotage. The Railway authorities, whose view even the Minister, D.V. Sadananda Gowda, echoed, was that given the bandh called by the Maoists, and looking at the condition of the rails, sabotage cannot be ruled out. In the other incident, the goods train went off the tracks, possibly because of sabotage.

The Railways may find it convenient to blame the Maoists for the mishap to avoid taking any responsibility for the accident. And the local administration for its part would like to protect itself from any blame on the law and order front. However efficient the rescue and relief operations of the Indian Railways may be, focus on prevention of accidents assumes greater significance. Especially in the case of a high-speed Rajdhani Express, the inquiry must find out about the maintenance and inspection of tracks on the route, more so because of the bandh call. With the goods train derailment being not far from this site, and unexploded bombs having been discovered at another place, the picture that emerges is a disturbing one. Even if the Railway Minister has partially rolled back his fare increase to favour the suburban commuters, the recent hefty hike in fares and freight tariff definitely raises expectations among rail users about a clear direction in the first Railway budget of this government — a focus on safety, security, and passenger amenities. A sense of security and confidence needs to be instilled in rail users. The General Budget and the Railway Budget need to allocate substantial resources to improve safety on the rails and for the replacement of worn-out coaches and tracks. Consolidation and modernisation should take precedence over expansion.

More In: Editorial | Opinion