04 July 2004, Indian Express

Train accidents – don’t blame them on the bad luck or a devil’s hand as according to a report of the Commission for Railway Safety (CRS), “human failure” is the reason in more than 80 per cent of cases.

A White Paper on Safety (WPS), prepared by Indian Railways last year, says as per the statutory inquiries, failure of the railway staff causes most of the mishaps. In 1997-98 report to Parliament, the CRS said 83 per cent of all major train accidents were due to “human failures.” However, consumer safety experts argue that putting the blame on Human failure is like taking the easy way out.

“If human error is shown as the cause of the latest tragedy, suspension of the person deemed at fault ends the story. If, however, the failure of the system – tracks, bridges, signalling systems, etc – is deemed to be the cause, then it implies a lot of remedial work and is, therefore, avoided,” says Soumi Home Roy, a researcher, in a report by CUTS, an NGO.

“A statutory probe is ordered after almost every mishap by the CRS. It has recommended scores of measures to improve the safety situation of Indian Railways, but most of them have been overlooked. There is no follow up and the report gathers dust in the Rail Bhawan,” says Roy.

Most safety committees have called for strengthening the infrastructure and mechanising the systems for signalling and switching of tracks. However, the bulk of the rail network still relies on outdated, dilapidated safety assets, says the report.