CRS 'ill-equipped' to probe railway accidents

NEW DELHI JAN. 3. Yet another accident on the Parli-Vaijnath-Vikarabad section, under Secunderabad division of the South Central Railway, in less than a fortnight has marred the safety record of Railways. Twelve persons were killed and 39 injured when a passenger train rammed into a stationary goods train today.

While admitting that prima facie the accident appeared to be a result of "human failure", the Railway Minister, Nitish Kumar, warned of stern action against those found guilty. An Assistant Station Master and a pointman were absconding after the accident. He ordered immediate medical care to the injured and directed that they be airlifted, if necessary.

The last two accidents — the September 9 crash of the superfast Rajdhani Express in Bihar and the December 21 derailment of the Hyderabad-Bangalore Express in Kurnool district of Andhra Pradesh — were blamed on sabotage. The latest accident is reminiscent of the 1995 collision of the Purshottam Express with the stranded Kalindi Express near Firozabad and the 1999 Gaisal accident involving the collision of the Brahmaputra Mail with the Awadh Assam Express. The two accidents had claimed 700 lives.

The recommendations of many safety review committees and inquiries by the Commissioner of Railway Safety (CRS) are yet to be implemented by the Railways.

Sources said that as the CRS are drawn from a single discipline — civil engineering — they faced problems while studying failures in the electrical, mechanical and signalling areas and were forced to depend on others.

Despite 15 meetings in the recent past on converting the CRS into a multi-disciplinary institution, the Railway Board has failed to take a decision. Mr. Kumar has expressed his willingness to make the CRS a multi-disciplinary body and indicated his preference for doing away with departmental biases if the Railways has to put safety first on the tracks.

The crucial question is: who will detect human failure? It has to be either the operating officer or one who is an expert in the signalling, electrical or mechanical areas. The present system of CRS has none of them in any railway zone.

Though the CRS is under the purview of the Civil Aviation Ministry, their reports could be motivated and tailored to suit the dispensation of the day.

The two most recent glaring examples were the Kadalundi accident in Kerala and the derailment of the Mumbai-Ahmedabad Shatabdi Express. While on the Kadalundi disaster, the CRS report spoke about tornado without looking at the weather report, on the Shatabdi accident the report hovered around a lack of dashpot oil.

"Does it show a genuine concern for safety of passengers? It is the failure of the Railway Ministry to look for real causes of accidents and try and make amends," a retired senior Railway Ministry official said.

Mr. Kumar announced an enhanced ex-gratia payment to the victims. Accordingly, Rs. 1 lakh in case of death, Rs. 15,000 in case of grievous injury and Rs. 5,000 in case of simple injury would be paid.

Despite a special railway safety fund of Rs. 17,000 crores and repeated assertions of renewing aged assets such as bridges, very little seems to have been done to instil a sense of security and safety among the passengers.

The Railways operates about 7,500 passenger trains daily, carrying 13 million people.

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