Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Railways on guard against accidents

KOLKATA: With assembly elections round the corner, railway minister Mamata Banerjee can't afford to take chances. Neither can senior railway officials in charge of operations. One more accident, like the one in Sainthia, can set back the Trinamool Congress' prospects. To prevent this, a number of measures have been taken. While senior Eastern Railway officials, from all departments, have been directed to travel in drivers' cabins of passenger train locomotives, inspection staff are paying surprise visits to level crossing gates and signal cabins and also keeping tabs on the activities of gangmen.

"Inspection used to be held earlier as well. However, officials used to travel by train and stay put at stations. Though such inspections were supposed to remain a secret for lower-level operating staff, information would get leaked. Everybody would be at their posts in proper uniform to establish to the inspection team that everything is in order. Nowadays, officials are travelling by road to a particular location and carrying out surprise checks. Even mid-ranking staff at stations are not aware that an inspection has been planned," a senior ER official said.

Such inspections in the last few weeks have yielded results and a number of railway staff have been showcaused. More importantly, it has resulted in staff remaining alert at all times. News has spread like wildfire that any car stopping at a level crossing gate or beside the railway tracks could be carrying officials from the divisional headquarters.

"I was manning a level crossing gate in the Sealdah division when an inspection was carried out. Around midnight, a car stopped at the gate. I did not pay much attention at first as the gate was closed and a number of other vehicles were also waiting. Suddenly, two gentlemen accompanied by a Railway Protection Force (RPF) constable walked into my room and demanded to see all documents. After going through everything, they were happy. Later, my immediate seniors told me that the officials had praised me," a gateman said.

Officials, after checking records at level crossing gates, are walking along the tracks to check whether gangmen are alert. They are also entering signal cabins and checking documents and panels. Even stations are under the scanner. Surprise visits are being paid to check whether station staff are alert and responsive.

"Not only is this process keeping lower-level staff on their toes, even senior officials are getting a better idea of the people working under them and the problem areas. Earlier, there was little scope for this as everything would be in order by the team arrived," an official said.

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