Track fittings in rails are “missing in large scale’’; typical supplies of fittings are only 15-30 per cent of requirements; the number of “near-misses” for every accident registered is huge, and field staff have strayed from the basics of safety checks.
These are some of the findings of a task force that Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu had formed after the Indore-Patna Express accident near Kanpur last month. These were presented to the Railway Board on Thursday, and bring out the sorry state of real-time train safety.
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The task force found that track fittings had either perished or were missing on a large scale and called for immediate stocktaking. It recommended a mission “zero missing-fittings” on “war footing’’, while calling it “non-negotiable”. The task force found that fittings like plates, nuts, bolts and such items, which keep rails together and provide the required safety, were in such short supply. A maximum of only a third of the requirement is annually provided, it found.
The findings called keymen and patrolmen “the last frontier of track safety”. They recommended 30 per cent special allowance as an incentive to fill these “unpopular posts” within three months. The task force also called for giving them proper tools and empowering them to report anomalies.
It found that the number of near-misses is around 29 for every accident that gets registered. The findings blamed inattentive station masters, missing or non-alert gatekeepers at level crossings for near-misses.
The task force advocated drastic changes to field inspection by officers and those down the chain of command. It suggested their mobile phone records be checked to ascertain their location on duty. The task force found that a large number of walkie talkies given to field staff to communicate were defunct. It recommended wayside huts for inspectors to carry out what is usually the last opportunity to detect visible rolling stock faults before a train starts its journey.
The task force found that something as basic and immediately doable like giving internal safety department access to Track Management System — a real-time web platform — was not done. It said the field staff had strayed from basics and impacted safety the most.
It warned that railway codes and manuals for inspection, operations and maintenance were no longer cast in stone. It added that what was considered an essential, non-negotiable drill, was often given a miss, and called for an end to “adhocism” and institutionalisation of “superchecks”.
The five-member task force will submit a detailed report shortly. Railway Board officials said its “actionable points” were part of Thursday’s presentation and work on them can start immediately if the top brass decides.