Tuesday, July 12, 2011

PATNA: The tragic accident of Howrah-Kalka Mail near Kanpur on Sunday in which 69 passengers were killed has made the railways to ponder over its safety measures. The general perception is that the mishap was caused as the driver applied the emergency brake all of a sudden. However, the technical experts of the railways do not find this theory tenable as emergency brake is meant for applying in emergency only and wonder where was the emergency.

According to these experts, the train was being hauled up by a high power electric locomotive. The permissible speed limit on Allahabad-Kanpur-Tundla route is 130 kmph and the Howrah-Kalka Mail was reportedly running at 108 kmph at the time of mishap. Locomotives either electric or diesel are provided with normal and emergency brakes. While normal brake is used by loco pilots (drivers) on the normal run of the train, emergency brake is applied in the case of emergency. These brakes are fully tested at the time of manufacturing, they said.

In the case of the Howrah-Kalka Mail what is baffling these experts is that the locomotive weighing 125 tonnes also derailed. It is but natural that bogies weighing about 25 tonnes each get derailed in such condition. Thus, the needle of suspicion points towards possible fault in tracks which could have caused such a fatal mishap on the high-speed route, sources said.

According to sources, the railways was earlier using heavier emergency brake, but now it is using moderate weight brake so that the release is fast in the event of application of emergency brake.

According to sources, the railways has witnessed many mishaps on tracks either due to head-on collisions or for other reasons in the past. But it had never witnessed such kind of mishap. The dynamics between tracks and wheels is such that there is hardly any room for derailment of train due to application of emergency brake. The system is foolproof in the sense that there is uniform load of locomotive and each bogie on the tracks. The application of emergency brake does not cause derailment because under the system the train will stop after dragging to a distance of about 600 to 700 metres, sources said.

The experts said that the loco pilots are permitted to apply emergency brake in three cases. First, the loco pilot (driver) is permitted to apply emergency brake if there is any suspect object like bomb on tracks. Secondly, it is used when stray cattle suddenly appear on tracks. Finally, the driver applies emergency brake if there is any fault in the tracks, they said.

Meanwhile, Bihar Daily Passengers' Association general secretary B N Sahay blamed the railways for the tragic mishap. He demanded full safety to passengers on running trains.

Safety must top rail agenda
There’s need for fixing accountability
It was the worst train accident in recent years that occurred on Sunday involving the Kalka Mail in Fatehpur district, near Lucknow, resulting in the death of a large number of people and injuries to over 100. Far away from UP, another rail mishap was reported from Kamrup district in Assam when four coaches of the Gauwahati-Puri Express got derailed, leading to injuries to 50 persons. These were not the only train accidents that have occurred this year. Such incidents were reported in January, April and May also. No one knows if accountability was fixed and any guilty railway employee was punished. Somebody somewhere is definitely responsible for what happens on the railway tracks. Those who board trains do so to reach their destinations, and not to lose their lives in the manner the unlucky Kalka Mail passengers did.
The authorities looking after the functioning of the Indian Railways may take comfort from the available statistics, which say that in terms of per million route kilometres, India has the lowest number of train accidents in the world. But the number of lives lost is the highest in this country. Keeping these figures aside, one must remember that such an explanation cannot absolve the railways of its primary responsibility of ensuring the safety of train passengers. In a country where trains are the most preferred mode of transport, there should be no compromise on the safety aspect.
The Indian Railways needs a full-fledged and efficient minister who does not use this vast department for promoting his or her political interests. It needs to be saved from leaders like Ms Mamata Banerjee and Mr Lalu Yadav. Now that Ms Banerjee has resigned as Railway Minister after becoming the Chief Minister of West Bengal, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh should look for someone who can understand the railways’ problems and responsibilities. It is not enough to introduce new trains and provide rail services in the areas which have remained left out so far. Rail tracks and overbridges should be maintained properly and there should no delay in carrying out the needed repairs. Passenger safety should be on top of the railway agenda

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