Arun Kumar Das*
In a report submitted to the ministry, the World Bank has slammed the manner in which the Commission of Railway Safety probes accidents and has emphasized the need for an independent body to fix responsibility.
New Delhi: Taking note of the Indian Railways’ current safety standards, the World Bank has found that the existing system of accident investigations by the Commission of Railway Safety (CRS) is inadequate. It has also strongly recommended that an independent rail safety regulatory and investigator be set up to prevent accidents.
The international financial institution has also suggested the creation of a dedicated safety management system under the railway board chairman to strengthen accident prevention measures.
The issue of train accidents and poor safety standards has assumed center-stage again after a spate of recent incidents. In the year to March 31, 2016, Indian Railways data shows that 66 of 105 serious rail accidents were attributed to a mistake by railway staff.
Currently, railway accidents are probed by Commission of Railway Safety (CRS) which is under the administrative control of the civil aviation ministry and has very limited power and capacity. Though it is mandatory for the Railways to order an inquiry to be conducted by the department after every major accident, the CRS probe and its findings are yet to make any significant difference with regard to how rail operations are conducted.
Reaching out for expertise
In order to improve safety, railway minister Suresh Prabhu had in April 2017 consulted various international agencies for suggesting safety measures keeping in view the increase in load of railway infrastructure and subsequent safety related issues.
'Experts from various countries like South Korea, Japan, and France were also called. World Bank was also asked for a report in strengthening safety in Indian Railways,' said a senior Railway Ministry official.
After studying the relevant facts and issues concerning rail safety, World Bank has submitted a detailed report highlighting the need for creation of an independent safety regulator and investigator as per the international practice.
The World Bank report submitted recently to the ministry has pointed out inadequacies in the current system of CRS inquiry and emphasized on the proper investigation by an independent body to fix responsibility and take preventing measures to curb mishaps.
Since poor maintenance of tracks is becoming the main reason for the recent spate of accidents, World Bank has suggested reviewing of train timetables in such way that a maintenance block of 4 hours is provided weekly on all main lines.
Comparing with the best practices in the global rail sector, the World Bank has suggested for broad-basing the existing programme of community engagement to minimize pedestrian accidents by addressing human and other factors contributing to the unsafe behavior.
Since mishaps at unmanned level crossings are one of the major reasons for train accidents, the Railways has undertaken steps to eliminate all such crossings by 2020 as part its zero accident mission.Suggesting greater involvement of staff, the World Bank has sought the need for developing a safety culture across the network.
'Establish a safety strategy with Indian Railways’ employee support. This is critical as no policy nor plan can be successfully implemented unless it has the full support of staff,' the report said.
Focusing on the involvement of employees, it said 'embed Indian Railway safety strategy into the Railway’s day-to-day operations.' Taking into account the Railways plan to acquire modern equipment to detect rail fracture, it has asked the national transporter to expedite the process of acquisition.
Seeking quick response, it has recommended for establishment of an emergency response plan to address derailments, fires, or any other eventuality. Suggesting a new color scheme for trains, it has sought painting of locomotives in bright yellow color on the front to improve their visibility especially at twilight times of the day.
*Arun Kumar Das is a senior journalist
Source: The Wire