The head-on collision between two suburban trains near Andheri station on Saturday night has opened a can of worms. It has raised a question whether the railways are struggling to keep up with safety norms with preference given to punctuality over safety with the advent of growing number of train services.
However, the burning question is why the railway administration cannot simultaneously carry out safe and punctual running of trains efficiently.
Even as the Western Railway (WR) boasts of its Train Management System that apparently allows them to balance both safe and punctual running of trains, the problem continues as seen in the Andheri collision. Presently, WR operates 1,250 services carrying 33-lakh commuters everyday. In January 2008, they were running 1,127 services.
Mahesh Kumar, general manager of WR, who is in the eye of the storm after the collision at Andheri, held a meeting with department officials directly involved in train operations yesterday. Sources informed that his main concern was safe running of trains, and that he enquired about the various loopholes existing in the system that are being compromised.
Certain sections of the railway believe that it is not necessary that motormen heed the required safety norms, in order to maintain punctuality. “Several times we have to breach the auxiliary warning system (AWS) installed in signals, and move forward. This is done to maintain punctuality,” said a motorman, on condition of anonymity.
Breach of signal
An AWS is a device that indicates a breach of signal in the motorman’s cabin. It is an in-built display panel that allows the motorman to switch-off the AWS, if he wants to clear the signal without halting the train. “This is a very serious breach of safe driving that is being followed. Yet, it is done to maintain timely running of services,” said a railway official, on condition of anonymity.
A senior WR official said, “It is agreed that there is a pressure to maintain punctuality but it is wrong to say that we compromise on safety.” Another aspect briefed to Mahesh Kumar was the unnecessary diversion of trains that zigzag on tracks using crossovers. Even on Saturday night as it happened a Churchgate bound fast train was being diverted from the slow line to fast line when it collided with an incoming Virar-bound train. “Trains are diverted from one track to the other to ensure that more trains are operated and that both safety and punctuality are maintained,” said another official.
On Tuesday the Commissioner of Railway Safety, PK Bajpai visited the Andheri railway station at around 11.45 am to inspect the site where the collision took place. He will now hold a public hearing on June 20 and 21 to speak to people who witnessed the Andheri train collision.