December 14, 1998
NEW DELHI, DEC 13: The indictment is strong and direct: “All rules and guidelines (for safety) are there. All provisions are there. But there is no implementation. The callousness (of the Railways) is apparent.” But no one should be surprised.
For, the Chief Commissioner of Railway Safety, reporting on the Khanna disaster â€“ in which over 200 died — says what has been said several times over: the tragedy could have been averted — had the Railways done what it was supposed to do. Systems failure, poor track maintenance, substandard track material, absence of basic safety equipment are among the reasons cited in the preliminary enquiry report prepared by Commissioner M Mani.
Most alarming is its finding that the tracks were only seven years old and yet they had cracks when the average lifespan of the tracks are 35 years. Mani’s report says the rails, from the Bhilai plant of the Steel Authority of India, could have been defective or of faulty design.
The report suggests that samples of the track besent to SAIL and to the Research, Development and Standards Organisation (RDSO) — the Railways research team — in Lucknow.
Sources said the samples have already been sent.
According to the report, simple devices such as the “flasher lamp” or detonators could have prevented the accident. The superfast Frontier Mail did not have either. The driver of Sealdah Express, coming from the opposite direction, would have been warned by the flashing lamp on the Frontier Mail’s engine.
The report says that authorities should “immediately” ensure that guards carry detonators all the time, as required. Detonators — the size of shoe polish tins — are supposed to be available in each train in case of an emergency, to warn an approaching train. The train guard has to place three of them at specified distances in front and rear of the train and blast them.
The office of Northern Railway’s chief engineer comes in for strong criticism. He is supposed to conduct regular ultrasonic scanning of the tracks. And “itappears that this aspect was neglected,” says the report.
The possibility of faulty rails — in quality or design — has become stronger, specially after the Delhi-Ambala track which is part of the same track where Khanna accident happened developing 100 cracks and 1,400 REM (joint) fractures.
The Commissioner’s final report is expected by the end of next month. Incidentally, a judicial enquiry had been ordered by Railways Minister Nitish Kumar but its notification is yet to be issued.
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