The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Reality crash course for Laloo

New Delhi, June 16: Laloo Prasad Yadav has had the shortest honeymoon period. Less than a month after he assumed office on May 24, the railway minister’s safety record has been blotted in a train wreck that killed at least 14 people.

Ironically, today’s mishap involving the Matsyagandha Express — the second major accident on the Konkan Railway route — occurred in the middle of the railway safety week, forcing the minister to abandon an awards jamboree in Calcutta.

Laloo Prasad has promised to take stringent action if it was found human error was behind the train accident. Today’s accident was attributed to a natural phenomenon: heavy rains dislodged huge boulders on to the track.

But there’s an element of human error, too, because of the slow pace in installing an early warning system on the route.

Railway ministry sources said a few heads in the Konkan Railway could roll, including that of chairman and managing director B. Rajaram who has been a favourite of former railway minister Nitish Kumar.

This isn’t the first time that boulders have played the culprit on this route. A year ago, 52 people died in a similar accident.

At that time, too, there was a clamour by the Railway Board to remove Rajaram but it was stalled. Konkan Railway is a corporatised body — the only such railway entity in the country — and does not directly come under the board.

The Konkan Railway route is built on one of the most difficult terrains, cutting through mountainside and along the Western Ghats. Konkan Railway always knew just how treacherous the route was, which is why it proposed to use innovative devices like meshing the boulders on rock surfaces to meet the challenge posed by the monsoon.

Senior Railway Board officials felt that if the meshing of rocks had been undertaken, such an accident could have been averted. “We have to determine whether not installing safety devices amounts to human error. A special warning system called ‘inclinometers’ was to be deployed along the entire route during 2002-2005. About 20 per cent of the route has been completed,” a board source said.

Installed at the mountain cutting, ‘inclinometers’ can detect even minute variations in the slopes and trigger an alarm.

The big question now: will Rajaram get another chance'

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