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(A slide from Rail Safety Presentation. Image Courtesy: RDSO)
Could there have been an auditory distraction on approach to the signal”?
Was there anything related to the cab environment that could have distracted the loco pilot”?
Is there evidence that the loco pilot was distracted by any in cab activity, such as reading a document...”?
These are three questions out of the 57 standard questions that form part of any departmental inquiry into any accident due to signal passing at danger (SPAD).
Such questions would get rephrased if Modi Government orders an independent probe into Amritsar tragedy in which a speeding train mowed down  62 persons. The victims were watching effigies burning & fireworks at Dussehra ground adjoining railway lines.
In this instant case, a few relevant issues that must be answered to public are:
Were loco pilots distracted by light and noise of Dussehra festivities? Was Vigilance Control Device (VCD) functioning or was it deactivated by loco pilots? 
VCD records actions of loco pilots and alerts them for their deviant behavior. 
VCD can automatically apply emergency brakes, if pilots ignore its warnings.  A passenger train moving at speed of 100 Kilometres/hour requires emergency braking distance of 750 metres. 
Could the pilots not see crowd on tracks due to fireworks smoke to apply brakes at such safe distance? Did the gatemen near the accident site not see the crowd on the track?  If not, are they aware of their duty as specified in the General Rules for the Railways. The Rules say: “Every Gateman shall, as far as possible, prevent any trespassing by persons or cattle”.
As put by 2013 report of The High Power Committee on Running & Safety Staff, “The Loco Pilot’s attention has to be always on the signals as well as on the obstacles on the track, condition / continuity of OHE, anything approaching from sides of the track, the loco controls, VCD, TPWS, the trailing load and he has to remain prepared to stop at the earliest in any emergency”.
Why pilots didn’t slow down the train when visibility was very poor? Are there not repeated instructions to pilots to drive train slowly amidst poor visibility? There are many more such questions that must be addressed to avoid repeated accidents due to well-documented causes.  
According to agenda notes for Railways Chief Safety Officers’ conference held during September 2010, “Accidents attributable to ‘Failure of Railway Staff’ constitute 40% to 50% of the total number of accidents…. It is a matter of concern that almost 90% of such ‘Avoidable Accidents’ are on account of ‘Failure ofRailway Staff’.”
Railways is replete with horror stories of ‘indicative accidents’ (potential ones) due to human error and laxity. A SPAD case in point is a goods train jumping red signal on 16th August 2017. An internal enquiry led to both pilots admitting napping at that time. The enquiry showed that VCD in locomotive was in ‘isolated condition’ since 4th August 2017.
In spite of all such instances, Indian Railways (IR) had trashed demand for probe into Amritsar tragedy. It has dismissed it as a case of trespassing. It put all blames on civil administration and victims of tragedy. 
IR’s insensitivity and arrogance should turn the torchlight on safety mess. It has sustained this muddle in spite of recommendations from different stakeholders including Parliament’s committees.
IR’s propensity to avoid accountability is reflected in Modi Government’s decision to shelve a proposal to set up a Railway Safety Authority (RSA) as a statutory body, independent of Railway Board.This was mooted by the High Level Safety Review Committee (Kakodkar Committee) that submitted its report in 2012. 
Kakodkar committee did not foresee that its own recommendation would become victim of “implementation bug”. It coined this term to refer to non-execution/delays in acting on recommendations of previous safety committees. 
To appreciate urgency for safety reforms and ethics, one needs to first understand the business of handling railway accidents.
Amritsar tragedy would be recorded as an ‘unusual incident’ in IR’s parlance. In the railway data, it would figure as P2 incident – the one in which persons are run over or knocked down by a train resulting in loss of human life and/or grievous hurt.
IR’s accidents terminology and classification system can spin anyone’s head.  The system is excellent from the standpoint of statistical fudging of railway accidents. It has been conceived to decide which accident should be probed by whom and at which level. 
It is here pertinent to quote Railway Board’s reply dated 23 July2013 to Chief Commissioner of Railway Safety’s (CRS’) query on accidents data.
The Board contended: “The mere fact that an inquiry into a train accident, not covered under Section 113 of the Railways Act and an inquiry report is forwarded to CRS as per above Rule 16, it does not make these accidents/incidents as Section 113 reportable accidents. Thus, it cannot be concluded that all train accidents irrespective of consequences are accidents under Section 113 and notice of which to Commission of Railway Safety is a statutory requirement.”
The classification system is, however, not designed to prevent accidents/incidents, whatever the tag. 
Thus, the recent stampede at Kolkata railway station might get classified either as Q1 incident (accidental or natural death or grievous hurt to any person within railway premises excluding railway quarters) or as R5 (any accident not included in foregoing classifications).
This doubt is necessitated for want of any specific mention about crowd or rush-related tragedies at railway platforms and foot over-bridges in IR’s Accident Manual. 
IR has, however, dealt at length on this issue in its annual Disaster Management Plan (DMP). 
Had it implemented its DMP 2018, the West Bengal rush hour-tragedy could have been easily avoided.DMP incorporates an Action Plan for Management of Crowd at stations during festivals and events of mass gathering.
As noted by DMP, “Existing CCTV surveillance system at the railway stations need to be upgraded to incorporate intelligent video analytics to get timely information when heavy crowd builds up within station premises and plan follow-up action
It continues: “Pictures stored on CCTV system will be of immense help in identifying miscreants and in initiating legal action against such elements. One of the intelligent video analytics envisaged for CCTV surveillance under the Integrated Security System is ‘Crowd Management’ to signal for crowd density within station premises when it exceeds the prescribed limit”.
At present, 436 out of total 7,349 railway stations have been provided with CCTV cameras. A few trains have also been equipped with CCTVs. The massive CCTV deficit shows that Railways attaches low priority to prevention of so-called incidents that may range from vandalism to stampede such as the one in Mumbai that led to death of 22 persons on a foot over-bridge. 
The Railways organizes accidents into five categories: I) Train Accidents, II) Yard Accidents, III) Indicative Accidents, IV) Equipment Failures and V) Unusual Incidents. Each category is further divided into different sub-categories. 
IR also divides train accidents into A) consequential train accidents - the ones having serious repercussion in terms of loss of human life,human injury, loss to Railway property or interruption to Rail traffic and B) other train accidents, which are not reported to Railway Board. Both these categories have sub-categories.
Railways ought to make legal definition of accidents under The Railways Act, 1989 more comprehensive. It also ought to amend Railway (Notices of and Inquiries into Accident) Rules, 1998 to empower fully lame-duck Commission on Railway Safety (CRS), which functions under the supervision of Ministry of Civil Aviation.
Kakodkar Committee found that CRS’ role is “very narrow”. It is limited to specifically three areas- inspection and certification of new works if the new lines are to be opened for public carriageof passengers, certification of new rolling stock and enquiry into railway accidents.
According to CRS, “Inquiry shall be obligatory only in those cases, where passengers killed or grievously hurt, were travelling inside the train. If a person travelling on the foot-board or roof of a passenger train is killed or grievously hurt or if a person is run over at a level crossing or elsewhere on the railway track, inquiry is not obligatory”.
It is this legal complacency & maze that has made IR indifferent to death of more than 15,000 persons per year on railway tracks. According to IR’s reply to a Lok Sabha question dated 18th July 2018, As many 49,790 persons died on rail tracks after being hit by trains during last three years.
IR says: “Deaths on Railway tracks occur due to trespassing, violating safety and cautionary instructions, avoiding over bridges, using mobile phones and other electronic gadgets while crossing Railway tracks etc.”
There is nothing in the public domain to show IR declared Amritsar tragedy as a disaster to provide immediate and best relief to those who were mowed down the speeding train. Disaster management guidelines even provide for chartering of helicopters for airlifting of injured persons. 
IR’s definition of disaster reads as: “Railway Disaster is a serious train accident or an untoward event of grave nature, either on railway premises or arising out of railway activity, due to natural or man-made causes, that may lead to loss of many lives and/or grievous injuries to a large number of people, and/or severe disruption of traffic etc, necessitating large scale help from other Government/Non-government and Private Organizations.”
IR’s indifference towards death on railway tracks led to Kakodkar Committee into making a stinging observation. The Committee noted: “No civilized society can accept such massacre on their railway system.”
The indifference has persisted in spite of IR collecting Rs. 5000 crore as safety surcharge on passenger fares over six years beginning 1stOct 2001. The surcharge proceeds were put in Railway Safety Fund.  In 2007, this surcharge was not withdrawn but subsumed in passenger fare. 
Apart from raising resources, IR has been exploring all sorts of technological options to prevent accidents. All these are, however, disjointed efforts that don’t transform into a collective, systemic approach to operation of rail network. Safety is to become DNA of IR.
It is here apt to recall what Railways Minister late Sardar Swaran Singh stated in Parliament during August 1962. Participating in a debate on railways accidents, Mr. Singh said:The best known safety device still remains a careful man. It is the railway administration's objective to create this careful man, and this can obviously be done in a variety of ways”.
Fifty-six years later, the quest for careful man remains as slippery as it was in 1962. The safety-obsessed careful man neither exists in the Railways nor in the public. 
This is perhaps because carefulness has to be nurtured right from the Railways Minister down to the gateman and to the citizens across the country. 
The Railways Minister should thus take a serious and affirmative call on railway reforms. This would necessitate unbundling of policy-making, regulatory and operational functions in IR. Let a beginning be made by constituting totally autonomous RSA.
Would Modi Government extend its slogan – Sab Ka Saath Sab Ka Vikas by giving helping hand to vulnerable persons on railways network?
Published by taxindiaonline.com on 26th October 2018
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