Railway Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal has announced a host of safety measures for Indian Railways including elimination of level crossings, provision of comprehensive fire detection systems and induction of crash-worthy coaches.

But, a detailed examination of Rail Budget 2013-14 shows very small increases in fund allocation for safety related activities despite the Minister’s repeated proclamations that safety would not be compromised in favour of new trains.

The apparent non-feasibility of the biggest safety measure announced by the Minister – of eliminating 10,797 level crossings during the 12th Plan – puts a big question mark on the Government’s seriousness about improving safety.

With about 15,000 people killed at level crossings annually in India, the intention of the Railways is noble, but experts seriously doubt its ability to carry out the mission.

“Railways is largely dependent on allocation of resources from the Centre’s Road Safety Fund for doing away with level crossings. Whether the funding would be enough and timely is something that is not in its control,” a former Railway Board member told Business Line.

Even if funding was not an issue, there are doubts on whether the Railways is actually capable of eliminating about 2,500 level crossings every year for the next four years.

“The first year of the 12th Plan is over and Railways has hardly done anything in the area. The big question is whether the Railways actually has the capacity to carry out this extensive exercise,” said Shri Prakash, former member (traffic), Railway Board.

Other measures announced for improving safety and security include trials of the Train Collision Avoidance System, induction of Self Propelled Accident Relief Trains, rehabilitation of 17 distressed bridges and provision of portable fire extinguishers.

The measures, however, fall way short of Kakodkar Committee’s recommendation made last year on increasing rail safety that called for Rs 1 lakh crore to be spent on safety in the 12th Plan period.

Expenditure on Railway Safety Fund for 2013-14 is unchanged at Rs 2,000 crore while allocation under depreciation reserve fund, capital fund and development fund has gone down.

Expenditure earmarked for upkeep of permanent way including tracks has increased 14 per cent to Rs 6.3 crore.

“The Railways, as always, is constrained by availability of funds. The Minister has tried to do his best, but he obviously has his limitations on the revenue generation side,” said the first official.


(This article was published on February 26, 2013)
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