The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Railway owns up to role in mishaps & misses

Malda, Jan. 17: Eastern Railway general manager Sunil Sengupta today blamed the recent spurt in accidents and near misses in the Malda division on “human failures”, acknowledging that railway employees were responsible for the mishaps.

A day after the Up Hatey Bazare Express hit the guard coach of the Howrah-bound Kamrup Express at Jangipur, Sengupta, who reviewed the situation at a high-level meeting on safety, said: “We are deeply concerned that the number of accidents is rising in the Malda division. The only redeeming feature is no one has died so far.”

Sengupta said the railway is “making all efforts” to prevent mishaps and ensure the safety of the passengers. He added that the railway had spent Rs 12 crore over the past year to repair ageing tracks and improve the signalling system in the division.

The Hatey Bazare-Kamrup close shave capped a series of accidents since September. On September 25, six bogies of the Teesta Torsa Express headed for Sealdah derailed at Mahipal Road station. Though there were no casualties, the tracks and coaches were severely damaged.

On November 6, the Farakka Express bound for New Delhi had a narrow escape when it travelled over tracks whose sleepers were missing. Three weeks later, the Guwahati-Kochi Express and the down Teesta Torsa, travelling in the opposite direction, came on the same line near Bhaluka station.

On December 4, three passengers of a Maruti van were killed when the Teesta Torsa crashed into the vehicle at an unmanned level crossing in Khaltipur. Five days later, the Mughal Sarai-Sealdah Express had a providential escape when it went over tracks without fishplates at Dharara station in the Jalampur section.

The Janshatabdi Express going from Malda to Howrah had a similar escape on December 17 when it passed over a stretch of track with a one-foot crack. On Christmas-eve, a diesel tanker overturned when it was hit by the Kamrup Express at Kumarganj. Almost 1 lakh litres of diesel spilled onto the tracks.

In all the cases, the railways took disciplinary action against its employees. Sengupta said Eastern Railway had set aside Rs 280 crore for track repair and signal maintenance. “We have begun repair work on ageing tracks and bridges,” he added.

The official said Eastern Railway has drawn up an action plan to ensure safety. “We are looking at strengthening infrastructure. Stations, tracks, signal systems and level crossings will be modernised as part of the plan. We are coining a slogan, ‘Improving tracks, increasing speed’, and are working towards it. That is why, we are focusing on repairing the tracks,” Sengupta said.

The general manager admitted that though “latest technology” had been introduced, the railway was not able to train its staff accordingly. “We are now training the employees on the use of modern technology,” he said.

Sengupta said most of the accidents had occurred at night. “Obviously, there has been some deficiency somewhere. We will monitor night traffic more closely and a special cell is being formed for that. Officers will make surprise checks on signal posts and level crossings,” he added.

Sengupta, however, defended the rail employees, saying their discipline could not be questioned. “After the army, it is the railway which is talked of when it comes to discipline,” he claimed.

The official said Eastern Railway had identified 12 “crime zones” across Bengal, Bihar and Jharkhand and had written to the chief secretaries for help to tackle train bandits.

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