Saturday, September 19, 2015

New Delhi: The recent unusual spurt in the number of train accidents on Indian Railways, particularly cases of derailments, has come at a time the top management at the Railway Board is gripped in an unusual setting – the absence of a full-time Member (Traffic), who looks after safety related aspects, for more than seven months since February.

Currently, Additional Member-Traffic Transportation Kundan Sinha is looking after the role of Member Traffic as additional charge since 1 August. Before him, Additional Member-Commercial Ajay Shukla held the post of Member Traffic between February and July. The reason being, apparently there is not a single General Manager from the Indian Railway Traffic Service (IRTS) with the required level of experience vel of at present.

“The lack of a GM from the traffic service to fill up the post of Member-Traffic is attributed to the fact that traffic service officers are selected through the civil service where the average age of an officer is 27 years. This is three years more than the average age of an officer selected through the engineering service for other railway services,” explained a former railway board Chairman. “So, by the time an average traffic service officer reaches the eligible age for becoming a GM, he is already nearing retirement.”

A senior rail ministry official said there is availability of GMs from the traffic service but they lack the experience required to become Member-Traffic. “This is just a technical issue. It is not a problem as even an officer on additional charge works like a full-fledged Member-Traffic,” he said. He added safety-related matters are reported to both the Member-Traffic and the Chairman of the board. “But actually safety issues are addressed by all the departments including engineering, electrical and mechanical etc,” he said.

There is something else equally unusual in the top management at the railway board, the seat of administration of Indian Railways at the Rail Bhawan. The current Chairman of the board, A K Mital, is the first officer of the Indian Railway Stores Service (IRSS) to be heading Indian Railways in its 160 year-old history. Traditionally, officers from three services – Indian Railways Service of Engineers (IRSE), Indian Railway Service of Mechanical Engineers (IRSME) and Indian Railway Traffic Service (IRTS) — have risen to occupy the post of Chairman, Railway Board.

Before becoming the Chairman, Mital was Member-Staff at the railway board. He has also held other important positions in the past including GM-South Western Railway (SWR) along with the additional charge of GM at three other zonal railways. Addressing a media interaction last week, that followed rail minister Suresh Prabhu’s emergency meeting with all the GMs of zonal railways on safety, Mital had said the overall number of accidents has come down by 25 per cent to 54 in the current fiscal so far.

“But this does not mean the situation is okay. We are analyzing all the accidents to take corrective action. The analysis shows 40 per cent of these accidents were avoidable, meaning they occurred due to system failure including both equipment and employee,” he said, adding the margin to address issues of delays in taking corrective action has shrunk due to high capacity utilization of the network.

He also said funds were a constraint for system improvement but that issue is being addressed now. Post the GMs meeting, where Prabhu asked GMs to pull up efforts on safety improvement, the ministry has decided to seek around Rs 1 lakh crore assistance from the finance ministry for a Special Railway Safety Fund (SRSF). This comes within months of the presentation of the rail budget on 26 February in Parliament.

The GMs meeting had followed two train accidents within a day and at least eight derailments in the past nine months of 2015. Earlier this month, at least 42 people were injured after six coaches of the Chennai-Mangalore Express derailed in Tiruchi near Poovanaur district in Tamil Nadu. Also, two trains had derailed within minutes at the same spot near Harda in Madhya Pradesh in August claiming 29 lives. The year 2015 has so far seen eight train accidents due to derailments. (courtesy: business standard)


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