Wednesdays rail mishap at Raigad in which 20 people were killed is the second accident within a year for the Konkan Railway, the most modern railway system in the country.
The accident occurred when the Mumbai-bound Matsyagandha Express, coming from Mangalore, hit boulders and jumped tracks over a bridge. The area has been experiencing heavy rains.
The accident throws up a crucial question. If projects like Konkan Railway, built at exorbitant costs to the public, give way, how safe is railway travel? Projected as Asias largest railway line constructed at one stretch and Indias biggest railway project of this century, it cost more than Rs 3,400 crore.
When contacted for his opinion on the accident, the architect of Konkan Railway, and now Delhi Metro managing director E Sreedharan had nothing to say except that he had left the organisation years back. But, former railway board chairman RN Malhotra tried an answer: Any technology whether railway, power supply or aviation cannot attain 100 per cent safety.
Konkan Railway Corporation Ltd (KRCL), which operates the 760-km line, had just a few days back put up a press release claiming that it had spent Rs 60 crore as part of its efforts to make the route safe.
The money had been spent after June 22, 2003 accident which claimed 52 lives. The works included fixing boulder nets connected to inclinometers which record even minute variations in slopes. When detected, a relay gets triggered to activate so-called Rasha Dhaga boxes and also the anti-collision device mounted on a tower nearby. Flashing red lights and hooters on Raksha Box warn patrolman.
All these technological marvels failed and so did manual patrolling by 400 persons. Nobody can come in natures way. The accident occurred at a spot which was not considered vulnerable, said Mr Malhotra. In his view investment in safety works can reduce risk but cannot eliminate it. He says this is true of all railway systems, including the one in Japan.
Another technological marvel is being constructed at a cost of an estimated Rs 5,000 crore linking Udhampur to Baramullah in Jammu & Kashmir. It is a more challenging terrain and throws more questions on safety.