Safety, not bullet train, should be first priority of Railways, says EAS Sarma
Moneylife Digital Team 02 October 2017
EAS Sarma, former secretary of the Government of India, has demanded the Railways and Railway Minister Piyush Goyal to give priority to safety in Railways. Pointing out to specific reference from a report by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG), Mr Sarma cautions the Railway Minister to leave everything else and concentrate on safety instead of waiting for another accident to occur.
Mr Sarma has been sending warning to Railway Ministers about lackadaisical attitude of railways towards safety. In his recent letter, he says, "I thought that Railways, after the successive accidents, would drop the idea of taking up bullet trains and, instead, focus on the safety of tracks, modernisation of unmanned level crossings etc. The stampede on the narrow footbridge at the Elphinstone station in Mumbai has once again raised public anger against the warped priorities of the Railways."
"What surprised me is Report No13/2016 of CAG on Railways. I reproduce a portion of Para 6.8.8 of that report, that says, 'Foot over Bridge (FOB) is a critical element of crowd management and is prone to stampede. It was observed that FOBs were not strong enough to sustain crowd pressure at 25 stations of seven Zonal Railways'," Mr Sarma says.
According to the former Secretary, what the CAG had said so clearly ought to have woken up Rail Ministry in time to save the innocent lives of the people. He says, "Who is responsible for the inaction that has cost people's lives? Is it not ironic that the Prime Minister should spend so much effort on buying bullet trains from Japan instead of thinking of investing on safety improvements first? Is not the government misguided by warped priorities?"
"It is criminal on the part of the Railways to act indifferently towards modernising the 14,000 unmanned level crossings, strengthening the railways tracks, installing modern advance alert systems, crowd management systems and safety of women travelling by train," Mr Sarma added.
In his earlier letter on 28 December 2016, Mr Sarma had said, "To the ordinary citizen not affiliated to any political party, the blame goes to everyone. Something is wrong with the safety systems in place in the Railways and the priority given to safety in the Railway budget. What is the use of merging the Railway budget with the general Budget, when the priority is for Wi-Fi and bullet trains, and not for the safety of passengers?"
"Once again, as a responsible Minister in charge of the Railways, you have the obligation to bring in technology into safety systems. Instead of holding the small fry responsible for these accidents, you will do well to hold those in the higher echelons answerable. Otherwise, you will only encourage the business-as-usual approach that will continue to consume human lives and cause human trauma," the former Secretary wrote to the then Rail Minister Suresh Prabhu.
"The money that you spend in the budget on Railways is the money given to you by the tax-payer of this country to spend prudently, not fritter away on foreign companies to introduce 'bullet trains' and so on. May I request you to recall what all I have been saying on the need to launch a mission of 'Zero Tolerance for Accidents', make the senior officers of the Railways responsible for lapses and assure the nation of an accident-free railway system in a time bound manner?" Mr Sarma asked.


Deepak Kamath
5 years ago
Firstly i think Maharashtra has its own set of problems to be dealt with at grass roots level, for instance the number of people travelling in Local trains have exceeded so much that the local train network is barely able to manage it and commuters have to literally hang outside the local trains while travelling, the condition of the WE highway and its arterial roads and pavements have become so pathetic that people travelling by roads have started ending up with chronic back and spine problems due to the extremely bumpy rides not to forget the fatal accident happening, Mumbai city has been waiting patiently for the promised AC local trains which even though delayed by nearly two years still is no where in sight, how can the state government or the central government choose to ignore the projects already being unreasonably delayed instead of inducting new projects mindlessly, how can it give a deaf ear and blind eye to these pressing problems within the state and city and choose to go ahead with this expensive bullet train proposal. If the government has funds they should use it to upgrade the existing services and infrastructure within this city which are in a totally pathetic condition and ill maintained rather than spending public money in an irresponsible way.
Abhijit Gosavi
5 years ago
Will have to disagree here, but *respectfully* :-) Bullet trains are not only cheaper than airplanes in a fuel-economic sense, but deliver a comparable (not the same, of course) speed as airplanes *at a significantly lower burden to the environment.* Thus, there are three factors: the speed (in which they lose to airplanes, but really aren't as bad as regular trains for long-stance travel), the fuel-efficiency (in which they beat airplanes when you take into consideration the per-person impact), and the environmental impact (this is better than the same for both airplanes & regular trains). Even developed nations are hence considering these options.

What is often forgotten in comparing BTs to airplanes is this: one BT carries several hundred passengers in one trip, while an airplane carries maybe 200 on the average in one trip; so the number of passengers carried in one trip is so much higher for the BT that the BT wins by a clear margin.

Of course, safety must be considered carefully. But safety was an issue even for airplanes. Safety of the slow trains also can't be ignored because of one BT project.

Was an 80s' kid and distinctly remember people saying that the Maruti would not work on Indian roads for it would not survive in an accident, unlike the (horrible imho) Ambassador. See what happened!

Perhaps not directly related to this topic, but reducing the price of petrol by Rs. 2 is a joke (and it actually hurts the environment imho). To really help the middle classes (most of whom work in the pvt sector or are self-employed), give significant income tax breaks, clear up the NPAs in the PSBs, and shut down SAIL, BHEL, and the CSIR (a very unproductive agency that nobody talks about).

But if Mallya can still keep getting bail & can't be extradited, then is any change really going to happen?! Long sigh.....
Irshad Ahmad
Replied to Abhijit Gosavi comment 5 years ago
The supporters of bullet train may please see the chronic disease of inordinate late running of trains in Railway zones in Delhi-Howrah-Guwahati route. Just open and check randomly any train departing from Delhi towards Kanpur and track its running status. I can not plan my journey on this rout to reach Delhi from Buxar in time and catch another train for Mumbai departing after three or four hours, as I will most likely miss the onward train.
Efforts should be made by Government to rectify various ailments afflicting the Indian Railways which affects general public, instead of creating a white elephant of Bullet Train that will be used only by rich people, that too belonging to few cities.
Abhijit Gosavi
Replied to Irshad Ahmad comment 5 years ago
Sir, I’ve travelled a “lot” by trains, mostly in second class over long distances, e.g., Howrah-Mumbai, where in the summer you get roasted and fried in and around Akola, to say nothing of the dirty bathrooms. I’ll not lie to you: I’m glad I can afford to fly now.

Tardiness is a different conversation.

The larger point is, do you never want to see India develop, where *nobody* has to travel by such trains? Somebody below has put it more succinctly: “both safety and modernisation” are needed.
Abhijit Gosavi
Replied to Abhijit Gosavi comment 5 years ago
I typed something wrong above, but can't edit. I meant in terms of speed BTs aren't as good as airplanes, but are much better than regular (slow) trains for long-distance travel. In fact, here's an amazing fact: BTs are more fuel-efficient than regular trains. Sounds unbelievable, but it is true.
Mahesh S Bhatt
5 years ago
Bloated Corrupt Government what would we expect Swach Tax Mahesh Bhatt
m v singh
5 years ago
First of all how can everyone be so dumb not to understand that bullet train money is not coming through Indian govt or Indian railways , its japanese who are funding it and why the hell they will give funds for IR safety. They are giving it only for their bullet train and we are all looking forward to one safe rail in India and for what price ? practically nothing from our pockets its not our tax payer money. So lets stop mixing bullet train with or Indian Railways safety fund.
Abhijit Gosavi
Replied to m v singh comment 5 years ago
Well, it's not going to be free to the Indian govt, but I'll agree with you that it's a dirt cheap loan. So, yes, money needs to be allocated properly, but the larger point (imho) is, when a govt. runs *any* existing infrastructure, e.g., rail, road, air, water etc, money must be allocated for its safety & maintenance. That's probably not happening for the existing railway. Otherwise, people would not die needlessly like this.
5 years ago
On the one side govt. face the economic slow down,while it refuses to see the opprtunities like investing in safety of railways which will give a boost to demand side. During the 2014 election UPA had created policy paralysis. Whether BJP is following their foot steps?
Sudhir Bhise
5 years ago
Need both, safety & modernisation. Don't try to substitute one for the other.
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