Jan 23, 2017

1st lot of railway safety fund may come in Budget

HIGHLIGHTS
  1. In its two-year report card, the Narendra Modi government had claimed credit for fewer rail accidents
  2. This time, three major accidents took place in a span of two months, killing close to 190
  3. The first allocation of the railway safety fund may come in this Budget
NEW DELHI: In its two-year report card, the Narendra Modi government had claimed credit for fewer rail accidents and lower casualties. This time, railway minister Suresh Prabhu may paper over the transporter's safety record. His officers are themselves surprised over three major accidents+ in a span of two months, which have claimed close to 190 lives, compared to 309 in 2015-16.

With its record under the lens, the pressure will now be on the proposed Rs 1 lakh crore dedicated fund for safety, which was announced over a year ago and conceived almost five years ago.

While the railways is keen to show safety-related expenses have not been compromised, officials admit it is likely that the first allocation — of Rs 20,000 crore — for the dedicated fund comes in the budget. Over five years, the government is hoping to chip in with Rs 1 lakh crore and raise more money from states and the Central Road Fund, used to build railway overbridges.

Of the Rs 8.56 lakh crore to be invested by the railways over five years, Rs 1.27 lakh crore, which is less than 15% of the plan, is to go towards safety.

Traditionally, railways has been accused of being slow in replacing worn out assets, some of which date back to the British era. There are bridges, some unsafe, that date back a century.

Cash-strapped railways+ often become conservative in allocating funds for track maintenance and employing more gangmen and trackmen for check ups. It is also alleged that the brass is just sitting at the headquarters.

Despite successive ministers making a big show of the safety plan in the budget, railways has not been able to deploy new technology even as the newly-created Dedicated Freight Corridor Corporation has marched ahead — making goods trains safer than those carrying crores of passengers.

For instance, DFCC is deploying train protection warning system (TPWS), which will set off alarms and result in automatic application of brakes, preventing collision. Similarly, it is looking to move to a mobile radio-based communication system as part of the overall signalling mechanism which will help engine drivers speak directly to the control room instead of the current system where loco pilots can only talk to the station when they are a few kilometres away.

There is also the radical plan to do away with guards in goods trains that run on the eastern and western freight corridors through what is called End of Train Telemetry. "Funds have been a problem but the Railway Research Designs and Standards Organisation has also slowed down adoption of new technology," said an official. - TOI