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Stringent measures including privatisation of Indian Railways necessary to avoid fatal accidents
Derailment of Indore-Patna Express - causing deaths of about 150 people and serious injuries to other 200 - is one of the deadliest train accidents in country's history occurring as a result of negligence in performance of duty. All reports lead to serious human negligence and blunder in maintenance of train coaches and tracks that caused last week train accident, amounting to culpable homicide.

Year after year, passenger-train fares and freight charges have been increased on name of passengers' safety, proper maintenance of tracks, introduction of safety measures, and improvement in quality and delivery of service. However, even after many decades end results show minimum changes in quality of services while vested interests and pathetic attitude of caretakers of railway are largely involved in poor delivery of services.

Quite often, top management, officers, personnel, and political heads of railway in India keep careless temperament in responding to their responsibilities and thus significant delays in running of trains every day and numerous accidents every year doesn't carry much weight for these caretakers although on the other hand miserable scenarios of Indian Railways only speak up the deplorable story of rail management.

Late running of trains and accidents have been issues which haunt Indian Railway for many decades nevertheless Indian Railway has not made significant achievements in improving their horrible state of functioning even in last two decades of time.

Average train speeds on many routes are not above 45-60 km/hour whereas many routes are providing train services only on single track and many important busy routes have not been upgraded with extra tracks. Also, many districts of the country and their towns are not connected by train services yet even after 70 years of India's independence. With average annual rail budget going one lakh crore rupees (15 billion US dollars), one cannot understand why these long-lasting issues have not been sorted out in many decades.

Currently, India's Railway Minister Mr. Suresh Prabhu is carrying ambition of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to run bullet trains between capital cities of their home states Maharashtra and Gujarat respectively. There is requirement of monstrous sum of about a hundred thousand crore rupees (15 billion US dollars) for completing this ambitious projects of Prime Minister, many Union cabinet ministers, and allied industrialists from these two states of western India.

Most of the revenues generated by the Indian Railways is being diverted by current India's Union government for bringing up reality of bullet trains in India with the help of Japan where they will be less relevant in future as Japan is focusing on introducing maglev trains at speeds almost double of a bullet train. That is a reason why Japan is also providing loans to India at very low interest rates for completing bullet train projects in India.

Passenger-train fares and freight charges have almost doubled up in last 10-15 year time. Number of passenger trains and people traveling in trains in India has also increased significantly but these trains are running on same number of old tracks. Passenger-trains and freight trains are running at their full capacity whereas large number of wait-listed passengers also commutes every day in each long distance passenger train giving the Indian Railways enormous revenues. Railway also makes huge revenues from advertisements put on in trains' compartments and within railway premises as well from charges like cancellation fees, surcharge on reservation, and dynamic rates of tickets in premium trains, etc.

Notwithstanding, spending on maintenance of tracks and coaches and introduction of advanced accident-resistant LBH coaches is meager and defies government's claims for ensuring maximum safety of passengers. Reports say that over a network of 120,000 km of tracks, Indian Railways has target for renewal of 4500 km of tracks annually but citing finance shortage, the Indian Railways is lagging much behind in track renewal and less than half of its target is completed every year.

Whether the Railway is making profit or running in loss is a matter of dispute. However, top management, officers, personnel, and political heads of the Indian Railways are always milking it brazenly as these caretakers are often surrounded by contractors for their monkey business. In fact, tenders are flown and distributed to moneygrubbing contractors by railway management in return of good gratifications. Many higher ranked officers of the Indian Railways have been caught red handed for accepting vast sum in bribe including the contacts of a railway minster in previous government.

The last week's shocking accident of Indore-Patna Express was caused due to faulty maintenance of coaches and tracks resulting in choking up of train-wheels and lurches in running of the train. Reports say that track maintenance works were completed by contractors in those stretches of the rail-route where accident occurred. In addition, lackadaisical approach, inefficiencies, unions, syndicates, and their political affiliations are issues with staffs at railway's locomotive and coach maintenance factories as failures of engines and faults in coaches are often reported and are reasons for train accidents.

Monopoly of the Indian Railways should also end in operation of trains and delivery of services. Private entities should come out and play important role in railway. Until the Indian Railways is made a profitable organisation, it continues to avoid accountability for every blunder and pass the buck particularly when the political head and top management have hands in glove who never faces trials under criminal proceedings with criminal charges for the blunder and deaths of hundreds of passengers. More, the country also put in oblivion names of their past rail ministers and other union ministers so whom the country will make liable for the past train accidents amounting to crime.

Although it is a bold decision of the government to allow hundred percent private investments in the Indian Railways, accountability must also be fixed for these private stakeholders who in turn will make railway management and officers accountable to their duties.

Inefficient, non-performing, corrupt staffs will be weeded out while strict surveillance of railway personnel and inspection of works by management of private stakeholders will become routine matters. Every corrupt and non-performing staff including top management and ministry people along with Rail Minster must face trial with serious charges under criminal laws for blunders and for negligence causing fatal accidents.

Private investors should also make for every decision-making so that many major problems, which have been neglected for many decades, can be addressed prudently and in good conscience. For many decades, busy routes have not been provided with extra tracks and routes with single track and old tracks have not been upgraded. Let private investors sort out many such deficiencies in the Indian Railways whereas private investors should get returns by adding their cost in ticket sales so that rail services can be made a profitable business.

Currently, large number of seats under reservation in every long distance train including Rajdhani Express remains unoccupied between many stations as the bulk of passengers resumes or terminates their journey only at major stations. Due to higher charges of tickets in reserved coaches for journey of 3-6 hours, many daily commuters travel uncomfortably in unreserved coaches or without valid tickets in reserved coaches.

With certain rebates for those unoccupied seats in reserved coaches, railway can get many passengers and make extra bucks in revenues. There are always 100-200 passengers traveling in every long distance train who want to pay extra Rs. 25-100/- on their unreserved tickets depending on class of travel if they get a seat and comfortable journey in reserved coaches. It will make railway earn extra revenue of 5-10 crore rupees in a day or 2000-3500 crore rupees (300-500 million US dollars) in a year.

Unlike current messy practices of rising fares and freight charges, let the country know how much shares of ticket sales are being spent on operation of running trains, improvement of tracks, maintenance, safety measures, introduction of new technologies, and addition of valued services. With stakes of private investors in operation of Indian Railway, safety of passengers and their luggage and quality of necessary services required during journey will be ensured and addressed properly and regularly with a transparent and accountable system. Efficient management and professionals of private players with due accountability will always ensure punctuality and safety in train services.

Government should rather focus only on planning and expansion of railway. Parallel competition in railway services should be allowed also with a new private rail carrier between major stations and in certain busy routes giving more viable options to commuters. Or at least, private players should be allowed to lay down extra upgraded tracks for semi-high to high-speed trains on each and every route. Let these private players provide quality train services in semi-high to high-speed category under monitoring of the rail ministry. 

Editorial NOTE: This article is categorized under Opinion Section. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of merinews.com. In case you have a opposing view, please click here to share the same in the comments section.
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