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Crying Out Loud

Prabhu had promised in his last Budget that all trains would eventually have LHB coaches and that the ICF coaches would be phased out. This is yet another challenge for Indian Railways

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Indian Railways (IR) witnessed yet another tragic accident. At least 150 passengers died while another 200-plus were injured in the Indore-Patna Express derailment. Various statistics and data point capture the apathy of IR and the government of the day towards the safety and security of passengers.

Between 2009-10 and 2014-15, records show that there were a total of 803 accidents, 47 per cent of which were due to derailment of trains. To compound the problem, there is a shortage of staff in the departments dealing with the safety aspects of IR. As many as 1.27 lakh posts are lying vacant in IR with most vacancies in the northern division (around 11 per cent) followed by east central (9 per cent or so), south eastern and the central railways. Who is answerable for the shortfall?

As is known, after defence services, IR is the country’s second largest employer with a total headcount of 13.3 lakh, and a wage bill of over Rs 76,000 crore as per the records of 2013-14. Railway minister Suresh Prabhu has been on record over the reduction in the IR’s overall headcount from over 16 lakh a decade ago to under 13 lakh during his short tenure.

What the railway minister will not be proud of today, however, is the dismal shortfall in crucial manpower entrusted with the safety and security of tracks and trains. But what can any railway minister do when IR carries virtually the entire population of Australia daily on its ageing tracks.

According to former railway minister Dinesh Trivedi, IR as an organisation may be on the verge of bankruptcy. He said his biggest worry is the neglect and erosion of the Depreciation Reserve Fund (DRF) and Development Fund (DF). Why are DRF and DF so important?

It is these two funds from where money is drawn to replace faulty or defunct infrastructure like old railway tracks, crumpling coaches, engines or the signalling systems. As per Trivedi, IR needs to infuse at least Rs 25,000 crore every year to replace its crumbling infrastructure. But where will this money come from?

Another reason that was cited for the high mortality rate in the Indore-Patna Express derailment is the continued usage of ICF coaches manufactured in the Integral Coach Factory (ICF). These coaches tend to pile up during derailment compared to the coaches of Rajdhani and Shatabdi that are modern and manufactured from technology of Linke Hoffman Busch (LHB). Passengers traveling in LHB coaches have a better survival rate in the event of a severe accident, various reports suggest.

Prabhu had promised in his last Budget that all trains would eventually have LHB coaches and that the ICF coaches would be phased out. This is yet another challenge for IR. It seems even Prabhu (God) cannot help us here if we do not help ourselves.