Rail minister Suresh Prabhu has called for implementation of a Zero Accident Mission
The rail ministry’s plan to seek around Rs 1 lakh crore (Rs 1 trillion) funding for the Special Railway Safety Fund from the finance ministry in response to the recent spurt in the number of train accidents seems to have missed out on a crucial affliction — the need to strengthen the operational staffing issues.
The rise in the cases of derailments of late has come at a time the brass 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.
Rail minister Suresh Prabhu has called for implementation of a zero accident mission as part of which the ministry will seek the mammoth Rs 1 lakh crore funding for the SRSF.
This includes around Rs 40,000 crore (Rs 400 billion) for elimination of Unmanned Level Crossings alone, which are responsible for more than a half of all the deaths occurring in train accidents.
A similar fund to bolster safety infrastructure was introduced by the government in 2001 to wipe out the accumulated arrears of renewal of over-aged assets including tracks, bridged, signalling gears and rolling stock.
It was created with an initial corpus of Rs 17,000 crore (Rs 170 billion) of which Rs 12,000 crore (Rs 120 billion) had come from the finance ministry as dividend free capital.
The fund was closed in 2008 with its balance of Rs 597 crore (Rs 5.97 billion) merged in the Depreciation Reserve Fund.
Such funding initiatives would require parallel efforts on revamping the railway board for their success.
Currently, additional member-traffic transportation Kundan Sinha is looking after the role of member traffic as additional charge since 1st August.
Before him, additional member-commercial Ajay Shukla held the post of member traffic between February and July.
The reason being, there are not enough general managers from the Indian Railway Traffic Service with the required level of experience at present.
A senior rail ministry official said there is availability of GMs from the traffic service but they lack the required number of years of experience for becoming member-traffic.
“This is just a technical issue.
“It is not a problem as even an officer with additional charge of member-traffic 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.”
At a media interaction last week, that followed rail minister Suresh Prabhu’s emergency meeting with all the GMs of zonal railways on safety, Railway Board chairman A K Mittal 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 analysing 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 utilisation 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 decided to seek assistance from the finance ministry for the 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 because of derailments.