04 July 04, The Economic Times

NEW DELHI: 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 However, the bulk of the rail network still relies on outdated, dilapidated safety assets, says the report.

Experts advise the setting up of a Safety Board on the lines of the National Transportation Safety Board of the USA, which would look after the safety aspects of railway network and take the responsibility for all repairs, maintenance and upgradation.

“It is high time the government gave a serious look to the safety of both the airlines and the railways and considered setting up of a common statutory body that exists on the lines of the National Transportation Safety Board that exist in other countries,” Roy said.

It could be vested with full control over both the airlines and the railways, with the help of experts from all the wings.

“It is important to make such commissions independent and vest them with statutory powers, so that they could go beyond mere investigation into serious accidents, involving loss of life and property,” says Roy.

“Unless proper corrective action is taken on the reports of the CRS, the whole process becomes meaningless. It should not be reduced to a bureaucratic exercise to apportion blame and provide for the payment of compensation,” the CUTS report said.

“The WPS too proposes various steps and if implemented, the chances of accidents will reduce. The WPS says railway ministry has identified main causes behind the accidents and proposed certain steps to prevent them. These steps need to be religiously implemented to avoid further mishaps,” Roy said.