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Train accidents are again on the increase. Innocent lives who have entrusted everything of theirs to the railways find themselves on a journey of a different kind. People land up at the heaven’s gate in that fraction of a second when someone somewhere has not done his duty properly. Worst are those people who are left behind maimed and injured. Many perish for no fault of theirs.

Yes, the Indian Railways is totally responsible for such loss. Compensating for lives by a few lakhs is cosmetics as this person can never be replaced. People who are left behind do not know what to do now. Common train travellers are middleclass people like me or from rural background. Government can really do nothing much except to give treatment to the survivors, arrange another train for the stranded and hand over the bodies to relatives. Many have no claimants for the compensation so all of it goes back to the government kitty. Everything gets forgotten, media finds a new story. A few people are sacked or transferred and political statements are vociferously made. Resignations are demanded and by then rail traffic gets restored so life goes on as usual.

Train accidents invariably occur at inaccessible places, on the sides of fields and farms. Are civil and railway hospitals along the main train routes geared up to receive causalities?  I suggest use of helicopter ambulances. They should be mobilised to extricate casualties straight from the site to the best of hospitals. Can we have on each train a space for keeping material to make an improvised helipad even if that compartment gets destroyed? Can the railway staff be trained to create one helipad under any circumstances? I can assure you if our helicopter pilots can land on a five feet strip in the glacier in inclement weather as also our Coast Guard pilots rescue people in storms and rough seas then why can’t there be an NDRF air component to transport everything required even if it has to be under slung. The concept of Quick Reaction Teams for such activities can be done state wise for immediate cas-evac. If we can have anti sabotage and anti terrorist squads in every state, then there also should be airborne med-assist teams for the railways in general and state in particular.

Railways definitely need to pull up their socks. Accidents happen as animals come on the tracks, to people moving between tracks, crossing unmanned level crossings, to people crossing manned level crossings. However alert the driver and his assistant may be, for them to notice a crack in the railway track and stop the train at a safe distance is asking for too much. I have also not understood that why is the railway engine cabin located in a place where the driver has to peep out and look for objects. In case of bad weather he cannot even shut his window and has to look through the one in front of his seat. The length of the engine blocks the complete view of the other side. His seat is so uncomfortable that sitting on it for eight hours must be a task in itself. The assistant loco pilot hangs outside on the other side, trying to figure out if the signal is green or red or is there a caution. He maintains the logs and risks moving out on the engine to check while moving full speed. I find no safety gear for him.

I have seen them shouting to each other various commands and cautions as the situation arises. It is to confirm that what the driver has seen or observed is correct and cross checked. I can assure you one goes deaf in the engine roar. I have firsthand experience sitting in diesel engines while moving military specials. It took our railways ages for the driver and the guards to have walkie-talkies. Why can’t they have long range communication with their HQs and stations enroute? The driver or the assistant has to take the token half hanging with his arm curved at an angle. The person handing over the token has a burning “Mashal” to indicate his location at night. A dropped token means the train doesn’t have clearance to move and a penalty is imposed on the driver. Hope things have modernised and improved now.

The driver doesn’t have a toilet. Even if he stops at a railway station his position is such that he cannot run to the nearest one. I do not know if the drivers and train crew go through an alcohol test before mounting onto their workplaces as done for air crews. Railways are famous for working after getting “tally”. This I have seen myself as my uncle was a loco foreman in the NE Railway at Kathgodam and I had the privilege to travel on the footplate of steam engines many-many moons back. This poor man doesn’t even have a water cooler leave alone an air conditioned cabin. I have seen many of them carrying their own water bottles for the day’s journey. Yes stations were fixed where ice used to come on the engine after dark, as time to open the throttle and the bottle used to coincide.

Well friends our rail network is too vast. Threats are too many. One fish plate, one locking nut, one blink of an eye can lead to a tragedy. They still remain the prime movers of the citizens and freight of this country but they need to be more professional as far as rail safety and security is concerned. They also are the easiest thing to target maybe it a Rail-Roko or sabotage. Every life is precious; every life counts. I too want to ride a bullet train in this life. “Hey Prabhu”, will I be able to? I wonder!!!!!!!!!!!

JAI HIND

© Noel Ellis