Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Bullet Train a Misplaced Priority

Improving Health of Ailing IR is Nation’s Urgent Need
Syyed Mansoor Agha
Amidst the railway mishaps turning alarmingly frequent, Honorable Prime Minister Narendra Modi looks over fascinated of project of High Speed Train (HST) popularly known as Bullet Train. On September 14, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Mr. Narendra Modi inaugurated the Mumbai-Ahmedabad HST project at a grand ceremony in Ahmedabad. Keeping in view reputation for reliability and safety of the Japanese “Shinkansen HST, introduction of the system in India is certainly a thrilling dream, yet there is a question mark on the priority to bring the system from Japan on long term loan on the pretext of improving the IR network, the biggest public career of the country.
Since the high technology HST was launched in Japan in 1964, the train has not had a single accident and its average delay is less than a minute. The carbon footprint of a passenger travelling by a HSR is about the fifth of an air traveller. But the timing for the spectacular inauguration and choosing Ahmedabad as venue instead of Mumbai also raises some questions. The assembly election in the State are nearing are nearing and the ruling BJP is said to be losing public appeal. A congress leader has rightly commented, “The move seemed to be aimed at appeasing voters in Gujarat ….the foundation stone laid was in fact for a “ballot train” to launch the election campaign.”
The HSR will take around two hours to cover a distance of 350 Km. India’s first train, inaugurated in 1853 between  Bombay and Thane covered the 34 Km distance in about an hour. After more than 160 years, even today the average speed of the IR is around 60 Km/hour. It is among the slowest in the world. India’s fastest train Gatiman is far behind of its projected top speed of 160 km per hour. As NDA partner Shiv Sena observed, “Bullet train is not a common man’s dream.” The need of common men is improved IR services at par of developed world. There is no harm if India acquires technology and tips to overhaul the whole infrastructure from Japan, which runs HST at the speed of over 500 Km/hour with a clean record of zero accidents since 1964.  
Investing on a small stretch of 350 Km, to create a new elite class of passengers and ignoring health of 112000 Km of tracks used by common men is certainly misplaced priority. Data shows that in the year 2016 we saw seven railway accidents. This number has reached to 9 till mid-September. Who can say what will be the figure till the end of the year.
Poor maintenance of the tracks and signals, negligence and non-compliance of duty manual, deteriorating work-culture, shortage of staff, and week administration due to political interference and ever lurking dark shadow of muscle men, are the main causes of rising numbers of fatal accidents. The whole Railway administration from top to bottom is reportedly under-strain and threat. If staff is not safe, regular and dedicated to his duty, how can Railway journey be made safe?
After recent Utkal Express and the Kaifiyat Express accidents, mainly due to human faults, the Federation of Railway Officers’ Association wrote in a letter addressed to Railway Board, “The field staff and officers of all departments are under great stress of working in managing over-aged assets, flogged over the past few decades without commensurate increase in manpower resources to maintain the same in safe state. There are still more than 15% vacancies, mostly in safety categories, to be filled up. Even the selections already held are kept in abeyance.”
The letter further said, “Similarly, the newly created assets have not been provided with suitable manpower to maintain them.”  It is reported that the railways did an internal analysis in January 2017 which showed that for new lines that were laid in the past five years, there was a requirement of roughly 7,500 additional trackmen of which only 3,600 were sanctioned and just 2,000 were actually appointed. The safety of around 23 million passengers every day and around 8.421 billion in a year rests on the replacement of old lines and maintenance of the tracks regularly and 24X7 hours alertness of the staff. The health of our ailing railway cannot improve by sloganeering and fake hype in Nationalism.
 Running late of the trains is another shameful feature of IR. All trains are generally packed beyond the capacity. Huge crowd is one reason of fatal clashes among the commuters. Railways fail to cop the rush due to shortage of passenger cars and un-sufficient frequency on the roots. Our national priority should be to correct all this and provide our passenger safe and comfortable journey without any stress and strain. Bullet train should be next priority. For this Indian scientist should be engaged. If our scientists can successfully complete the mission to Moon and Mars and can excel in Missile launch technology, they can also develop high speed safer railway system. Modi Government should give priority to “Make in India, by India” instead of “from Japan on long term credit.”
It is unfortunate the ruling BJP has created a culture of 24X7 hours in election mode. When we priorities national projects, long term interest of wider range of ordinary people must on the top and winning elections the next.

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