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‘Robotic’ Railway!

Editorial |

The freak incident at Odisha’s Titlagarh station late on Saturday night was faintly reminiscent of the train that had started moving some years ago in Uttar Pradesh without the guard and the loco driver. The negligent nonchalance inherent in trains inching towards disaster forms the thread that bizarrely connects the two mishaps.

The promised “bullet train” is no substitute for the failure to take the minimum precaution at a critical juncture of railway operations ~ the reversal procedure which necessitates the detachment and attachment of the engine from the front to the rear.

This time around and within the jurisdiction of the East Coast Railway, the Ahmedabad-Puri Express started moving without the engine. Such incidents underline the grotesque failure of the railway administration and it shall not be enough to suspend merely a handful of employees at the subordinate levels.

Mercifully enough, a horrendous accident was averted, and the ECR General Manager, Umesh Singh’s directive to the Sambalpur division to take “strictest action against any negligent act endangering safety of trains’’ is tantamount to being wise after the event.

“Safety is non-negotiable and cannot be compromised. Those found guilty will be dealt with severely,” said the official and we must hope he will deliver on his words.

The lapse, for which a frightening explanation has been offered, is as inexcusable as it is collective. Will the fundamental question get to be asked and answered, and the responsibility devolves squarely on the Sambalpur division.

How could the train start running without the engine? And why was the skid-brake not fixed to the wheels and coaches during the reversal? Prima facie there appears to have been little or no supervision as the staff at Titlagrah station had forgotten to apply the locking systems of the bogies during the reversal and changing of the engine.

Many would have perished and many more injured if some members of the railway staff had not stopped the train by placing stones on the track. Since the track towards Kesinga has a downward slope, the train started rolling back.

An accident would have been too hideous to imagine. The overwhelming lapse testifies to a systemic failure, one where elementary checks were not conducted when tackling a basic procedure.

An enquiry has been ordered, but its findings might well get docketed as most enquiry reports are. It is no secret that Indian Railways generally offer sub-par amenities to passengers; is it too much to ask that the sloth be restricted to sub-standard food, dirty toilets, delayed and overcrowded trains? Passengers must at least be allowed to board trains with the hope that they will reach their destinations, and without negotiating 13 km of the route thrice.