Life is Cheap at Indian Rail

DQW Bureau
10 Aug 2010

It was indeed heartening to see CRIS holding a big seminar to explore ideas
for innovation on enhancing services, and how to give Indian Railways a leading
edge. A great effort, but considering that it has been in the news for all the
wrong reasons in the last few months (ever since Mamata Banerjee took charge), I
think the priorities and the job is well cut out for Indian Railways.

An on-line passenger reservation and freight management systems is great but
much more important is passengers security. The spate of accidents, derailments,
and alleged sabotage cases that have happened in the recent past, shows that
security is still not top priority. For instance, most of the work being done by
CRIS revolves around strengthening the Railways back-end like payroll, financial
accounting, budgets, materials management, and electronic file movement. While
all these are revenue enhancement activities, security should not take the

Let's take the latest case of the tragic accident where a fast moving
passenger train rammed into another stationary passenger train, resulting in the
death of about seventy people, and serious injury to about 200 men, women and
children. Apparently there is no call log of the conversations between the
driver, the guard and the station. There is no video record of what were the
driver and the guard were doing minutes before the accident. These are simple
security and surveillance technologies available today, that could have provided
some leads as to what went wrong. There was a gap of several minutes between the
time the station master discovered that one train is running at top speed with
no one in control and the the time it rammed into the stationary train. But
there was no way to alert the stationary train's driver so that he could have
tried to move away or change track if possible. With the latest communication
technologies available in India, it sounds so foolish that Railways is not using

Perhaps it's simpler to hand out compensation. Interestingly, in this
specific case Rs 5 lakh has been paid to the kin of those killed (adds up to Rs
3.5 crore for seventy dead); Rs 1 lakh to about hundred people (Rs 1 crore for
about hundred seriously injured), and Rs 25,000 for those with simple injuries.
Almost Rs 5 crore as compensation plus another Rs 1 crore for various other
steps taken after the accident including cranes for clearing up, movement of top
officials to and from the accident site just add to the crores that will be
spent on replacement. Perhaps, if this money would have been used for deploying
security solutions, things might have been very different.

Ibrahim ahmad

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