Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Railways generates huge profits, does not want to invest in saving lives

The Indian Railways has shown a major turnaround in the recent past, with having turned around from having huge losses to starting to show profit. Given the size of the Indian railways, the turnaround is a big plus for the finances of the Indian Government, and has lead to a tremendous positive news for the Railways Minister, Laloo Prasad Yadav, especially after his Government in Bihar and then the Government run by his wife dragged Bihar down into the depths of bad rule and non-development.
Because of the way that Indian Railways is designed in the country, (similar for most countries with some sort of rail systems, especially one that goes to every nook and corner of the country), rail tracks run throughout the breadth and width of the country. In India especially, given the history of the rail system development where the Railways is more than 150 years old, the Railways runs through a large variety of urban and rural areas. These intersect with major and minor roads.
These intersections are the areas where the majority of accidents happen. There are 3 types of crossings happen. The crossings where either the road traffic passes overhead or where the train track passes overhead. These are very safe, and there is no risk for road users. The next are the manned crossings where a railway employee will get notice of a train approaching, and accordingly lower the barriers when the train is about to cross. Here there are chances of accidents as most people are impatient, and will either try to run across or squeeze under the barrier. And then the most unsafe type of crossing is where there is no barrier and no employee to control traffic. The majority of accidents happen here.
These are the types of crossings that the Railways are being pressurised to man, and these are the ones that the Railways are resisting due to a claim of paucity of funds:

The fund crunch cited by the Railway Ministry to express its inability to man all unmanned level crossings drew a sarcastic response from the Supreme Court on Wednesday.
"On one hand you take a lot of credit for posting an impressive Rs 20,000 crore profit and on the other you say you do not have funds," remarked a Bench comprising Chief Justice K G Balakrishanan and Justices R V Raveendran and Dalveer Bhandari. It is a matter of concern that 73% of accidents concerning railways take place at unmanned level crossings, the Bench said wanting the railway ministry to take some urgent measures.

The real reasons seems to be the Railways seem to have made a balance between the benefits of manning these crossings and the cost required. The Railways has very ambitious targets regarding building up of a freight corridor and getting more trains as well as prestigious bullet trains. And what is involved if they don't do something about these unmanned crossings ? Nothing much, the current level of fatalities that are happening will continue to happen. In this matter, as long as the Railways can suggest a measure, they should be allowed to do so, but to leave the matter as is is not a solution.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 11:04 PM