Political parties slam Railway Ministry after Hirakhand Express tragedy

BHUBANESWAR: Political parties and passengers on Sunday slammed the Centre over poor railway safety measures following Saturday’s fatal train derailment near Kenuru station in Andhra Pradesh near Odisha border that killed at least 36 passengers. The Jagdalpur-Bhubaneswar Hirakhand Express rammed into a stationary goods train on the parallel track after derailment.

“We squarely blame the railway ministry for the tragedy, though we deeply mourn the deaths of passengers. The Centre dreams of launching bullet trains and boasts of initiating modernisation measures in railways. But the ministry has all along neglected the safety of passengers. Over 400 people died in train mishaps in the country within a year,” ruling BJD spokesperson Pratap Deb said. BJD said the party will demand the Centre to give more emphasis on passenger safety in the ensuing budget.

Opposition Congress was equally vocal. “Rise in train accidents in the country is a major cause for concern. The Centre should accord top priority to railway safety,” tweeted Congress state president Prasad Harichandan. Harichandan said the ex-gratia compensation should be enhanced to Rs.10 lakh for dead, Rs 2 lakh for critically injured and Rs1 lakh for injured, respectively.

Senior Congress MLA and leader of opposition Narasingha Mishra said the railways should not just sit quiet by suspending a few officers for the tragedy. “To appease the common public, the ministry always orders a probe by commissioner of railway safety. But nobody knows about the findings of the previous inquiry reports. People of the country have the right to know about the exact cause of accidents and remedies undertaken by the railways to avoid recurrence of the accidents,” Mishra said.

Passengers, who were jittery after the tragedy, expressed their anger on Indian Railways for the spurt in accidents. Many people vented their ire via social media. “We need safe rail travels than luxury. The railways should improve signalling systems and regularly inspect tracks. Introduction of more number of trains and better connectivity is as necessary as strengthening safety mechanisms,” said Rahul Agarwal, a businessman.

It was often seen, negligence by railways had led to a series of accidents in Odisha in the past. Railway sources said over 70 persons died in separate train accidents in the state in the past eight years. While the Hirakhand tragedy is the worst accident reported so far in Odisha, at least 16 passengers were killed on February 13, 2009 when 13 bogies of the Chennai-bound Coromandel Express from Howrah derailed while changing tracks in Jajpur district.

On September 29, 2016, Bhubaneswar-Bhadrak DMU rammed into a stationery goods train at Kathajodi station in Cuttack, causing deaths of two GRP officials and leaving many others injured. On September 1, 2011, a fatal collision between two goods trains in Keonjhar district killed five loco pilots of the two freight trains.