Sunday, July 25, 2010

Thursday, Jul 22, 2010
Railways did not heed CAG recommendations
K. Balchand
Report tabled on July 24, 2009; Railways yet to submit ATR
Norms laid out in Corporate Safety Plan not fully implemented
Shortage of staff in signalling and telecommunication department
NEW DELHI:Just about a year ago, the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) submitted a report pointing out the drawbacks of implementation of the signalling and telecommunication system under the Corporate Safety Plan (CSP), but the Railways don't seem to have initiated any corrective measures, which could possibly have averted Monday's collision at Sainthia.
CAG officials seemed to be disheartened that their efforts to improve the system and save the lives of people turned out to be futile. Incidentally, the CAG submitted its second report on the same aspect to Parliament and it is likely to be tabled during the coming monsoon session.
As per procedure, the Railway Ministry was supposed to have submitted an Action Taken Report (ATR), and after obtaining the CAG's observations, the Public Accounts Committee was supposed to take a decision. Even though the report had been tabled on July 24, 2009, the Railways did not submit its ATR.
Sources in the CAG said that it had the option of complaining against this lapse to Parliament, but said it would do so only if the department concerned failed to respond for two to three years.
Officials refused to comment on the Sainthia collision, saying they could not say what really happened in what they regard as a strange accident. But they underscored the fact that if their recommendations had been heeded, it would have perhaps been averted.
They pointed out that the CSP, which was to be executed in 10 years from 2003-13, had laid out certain safety norms and specified certain areas for improvement.
The Railways failed to implement all the recommendations.
“As long as this happens and these are not implemented, then these problems will confront you. Accidents will happen.”
The CAG pointed out shortage of staff in the signalling and telecommunication department. Modernisation had not been fully done.
Though funds had been fully utilised the improvement was only to the extent of 33 per cent. “May be that was because of cost escalation.”
The vacancies were supposed to have been filled on a priority basis and the CAG saw no reason for delaying a decision on the induction of the anti-collision device for more than a decade now.

Rly focus on training of A-grade drivers
Ajanta Chakraborty, TNN, Jul 22, 2010, 01.43am IST

KOLKATA: Railway authorities, waking up after the Sainthia accident are working on ways to amend training of A-grade drivers, even though they are already top-notch in terms of hierarchy and efficiency.

After Monday's tragedy, Railway Board chairman Vivek Sahai had said that

there have been five cases of sabotage since January. "The accidents are now occurring in mail and express trains. In many of these cases, there had been evidence of wilful interference," Sahai had said after the accident.

Sahai's contemplation has made the railways mull the training amendment for A-special and A-category drivers who operate on mail, super fast and express trains. Only 15% to 20% of all drivers in Indian Railways belong to these categories.

Eastern Railway officials said all 16 zonal railways are now being asked to send their feedback on the matter. A senior official said, "These drivers are already efficient. But the incidence of sabotage in trains driven by them has made everyone sit up. The drivers will be sensitised against possible means of sabotage."

There are suggestions to increase the frequency of the three-yearly refresher courses for the drivers. An official said,

"A key area of the refresher course is the psychoanalysis test and training. Increasing its recurrence seems to be the order of the day."

A railway driver usually begins his career as a diesel or electric loco assistant driver, then graduates as an assistant driver before becoming a shunter. After that, he can be promoted as a driver on passenger trains and finally on express trains. It takes more than 10 years for an assistant driver to work up the ranks to become a driver of a Rajdhani or a Shatabdi.

Training for a driver's position begins with preliminary theoretical classes followed by six weeks of "road learning" (also known as "learning road" or L R training) for hands-on experience with trains, tracks and signals. L R for most drivers tends to be for a particular route handled regularly. Among the suggestions being worked out is an intensified L R with a special eye on vulnerable stretches. Currently, if a driver has not operated on a section for over three months, he gets L R trips.

"The refresher course should be made an annual affair and the psychoanalysis test reworked," P K Chatterjee, former chief operations manager, Eastern Railway, said. The psychoanalysis test deals with building memory power, following direction, depth perception, number matching, perceptual speed and mechanical comprehension. "All these are important for sharpening the driver's alertness. So, it makes sense to increase frequency of the tests," said an official. The simulator training, currently a one-time measure, thanks to scarcity of training simulators, may now become a regular refresher training. Included in it will be medical tests and vision checks.

Railways hasn't met its own safety targets

Mahendra Kumar Singh, TNN, Jul 22, 2010, 12.43am IST

She may be facing heavy criticism for neglecting her portfolio but this picture explains why Mamata Banerjee couldn't care less. With assembly elections just months away, Mamata held a huge rally in Kolkata on Wednesday to observe 'Martyrs Day', an annual Trinamool Congress gathering in memory of 13 activists who fell to police bullets in 1993.

NEW DELHI: Here's one reason why the railways has such a bad safety record. The organization failed to meet targets it had set for itself in the railways' corporate safety plan (2003-2013) -- indicating the low priority it gave to passenger safety. This was revealed in a Comptroller and Auditor General of India's report tabled in Parliament in July last year. Till today, the railways hasn't been able to file an action taken report on CAG's findings.

A senior CAG official told TOI that the railways hadn't even met the targets set for the first phase of the plan. While the railways claims that it had completed 75.05% of the safety related works indicated in the plan by March 31, 2009, CAG officials are amazed at the PSU's delay in sending the ATR on its recommendations.

In the report, CAG had castigated the railways for failing to meet its self-proclaimed goals of modernizing signalling equipment, including installation of anti-collision devices (ACD), maintenance of assets and filling up safety related jobs. CAG pointed out that the railways was supposed to install modern signalling systems in all its zones during 2003-08 but did not come close to achieving this target.

The railways had adopted the 10-year plan in 2003 with the objective of having modern and reliable signalling systems and telecommunication systems, asset upgradation and renewal, maintenance, inspection and human resource development for signalling and telecommunication network.

In the plan, the railways targeted filling up all safety-related posts on priority but CAG found not a single zone had achieved this. In fact, the total safety-related vacancies had mounted to 85,102. The auditor found staff shortage in almost all sections concerning safety, including the operating, electrical, mechanical and civil departments.

Annoyed with the tardy progress, CAG observed that railways had failed to show any improvement in its signalling and telecommunication systems.

The top auditor also sought a review of plans to roll out ACD, observing in its latest report that the installation and functioning of these safety devices were not satisfactory in certain sections.

CAG, while examining the railways' safety performance during 2003-08, found that maintenance had not been done as per schedule in 11 out of 16 zones during the period.

Since April 1, 2007, the railways has been levying a special railway safety surcharge ranging between Rs 2 and Rs 100 per traveller. It was, in fact, supposed to discontinue the surcharge. Railways had claimed that all works planned under the safety fund had been completed by March 31, 2008 at a total cost of Rs 17,000 crore.

'Absentee' railway minister adds to Cong's ally trouble

TNN, Jul 22, 2010, 03.01am IST

NEW DELHI: The unending attack on railway minister Mamata Banerjee following the Birbhum train tragedy shows that the Trinamool Congress chief has emerged as yet another soft underbelly for Congress, after NCP and DMK have kept UPA-2 on its toes during its one year.

The "absentee railway minister" has compounded Congress woes by adding 'politics over welfare' charge to the opposition armoury which had enough in terms of corruption to target UPA.

Banerjee held a successful rally in Kolkata on Wednesday and the dais was shared by AICC state in-charge Keshva Rao and Congress's state leaders who made vows of partnership with Trinamool. But it did not do much to change the dominant view in the ruling camp that Banerjee will keep the party on its toes till assembly elections in West Bengal next year.

The shenanigans of NCP, be it the slip-up on price rise and farm production which is under the watch of Sharad Pawar or the IPL rigging, and the spectrum corruption charges of DMK's telecom minister, have made the Congress regime a sitting duck for the Opposition. The BJP and the Left have found a convenient weapon in price rise, IPL and spectrum to attack Congress which finds its hands tied owing to coalition compulsions.

The Sainthia train tragedy in Birbhum district has given fresh fodder to the Opposition ahead of the monsoon session of Parliament. What makes it serious for Congress is that Banerjee appears to be an easy target given her preoccupation with state politics and her known absenteeism from rail ministry.

The TC apart, Congress has had to bear skyrocketing food inflation and falling farm production, resulting in Pawar coming under attack from rivals. The NCP chief has not been spared even by Congressmen who feel
the party's image is paying for the mishandling of a ministry by an ally.

'Dead man's lever' could've stopped train

Jayanta Gupta, TNN, Jul 22, 2010, 03.08am IST

KOLKATA: The Sainthia train accident brought to the fore the need to look into systems inside locomotives and introduce a mechanism to ensure drivers and their assistants always remain alert. Save for EMU locals, the 'dead man's lever' or 'dead man's switch' has been phased out from all locomotives. As an alternative, Vigilance Control Device (VCD) is being fitted into locomotives in a phased manner. Till date, however, about 5% locomotives in the east have been fitted with VCDs.

Assuming that the driver and assistant driver of the Uttar Banga Express dozed off soon after leaving Gadadharpur Halt on Monday morning, the accident would never have taken place had the locomotive been fitted with a dead man's lever or a VCD.

After preliminary inquiry, officials seem to have arrived at the conclusion that driver of Uttar Banga Express and his co-driver dozed off, soon after leaving Gadadharpur Halt. "This is not the first instance of drivers having slept.
Though they get a long period to themselves after every run, there is no way of ascertaining whether they utilize this to catch up on sleep. Till now, driver error seems to be the most plausible cause. Even if the train had not stopped completely, its speed would have been sufficiently reduced to cause minimal damage, had they applied brakes in time," said a senior Eastern Railway official.

This is where a preventive machinery might have helped, said an official. "The dead man's lever is a knob that has to be kept pressed at all times to keep the train running. This system was introduced to prevent accidents, even if the driver died at his controls, hence the name. Unless a certain amount of pressure is maintained on the lever, brakes get automatically activated and the train slows down and comes to a stop. The VCD is a much more advanced device. Under this system, the crew in the locomotive will have to do 'something' every 60 seconds.
The driver or his assistant may touch a switch or press the horn. If they have nothing to do, they will have to press a switch on the console of the VCD every 60 seconds to inform the software that they are alert," an official said.

But why were dead man's levers phased out? According to sources, the decision was taken as a measure to make a driver's life "more comfortable". Drivers would complain that it was difficult for them to keep sitting at the console and exert the right amount of pressure on the lever.


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