Thursday, May 29, 2014

Railways Should Be Made Answerable to Passengers

29th May 2014 
Tuesday’s train accident in Uttar Pradesh is a grim reminder of the challenges facing railway minister D V Sadanand Gowda. While the statutory inquiry ordered into the mishap will determine the exact cause of the accident, preliminary reports suggest that the poor condition of the tracks was the villain of the piece. An accident earlier this year in Maharashtra was also attributed to poor track maintenance. Recently, the Press in Kerala published pictures of rail tracks with holes in them, much to the discomfort of the rail authorities. All this is a pointer to the poor maintenance of tracks and other infrastructure, which is the primary cause of accidents.
Gowda has promised that “safety, security and speed” will be his prime concerns. He has also promised to release his “road map” for the Railways within 10 days. True, it is not the first time that a new railway minister has made such promises. Needless to say, safety is a major concern for rail passengers. About 20 million people travel everyday in about 10,000 passenger trains. They cannot be left at the mercy of chance, when the government has an obligation to make rail travel a pleasant experience. It is not for want of money that the railways have not been investing in infrastructure development.
Some of the signal systems, tracks, bridges and level-crossings are as old as the Indian Railways. The accidents have become so frequent that the authorities are no longer bothered. The rail portfolio has all along been handled by heavyweights, whose interest, however, seemed to be limited to improving the rail service in their own states. Governance in railways is as good as non-existent. Now that a new government, which is committed to introducing bullet trains as in Japan, is in place, the people have high hopes. What the railways lack is leadership and accountability. That is exactly what prime minister Narendra Modi has promised. Till the promise is redeemed, the passengers will not feel that “good days have come”.

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