Audio tapes hint at administrative failure for Utkal Express accident

There have been 70 derailments in 2016 and 30 reported in 2017 casting a cloud on the safety record of Indian Railways. Not all of them resulted in casualties though

PTI Photo
PTI Photo
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NH Web Desk

Several unverified audio tapes of conversations between Railway employees indicate gross negligence and lack of supervision that led to the derailment of Puti-Haridwar Utkal Express at Khatauli. Even as the Commissioner of Railway Safety began an official inquiry on Monday, Railways have conceded that the tragedy, in which 23 passengers have been killed and many more were injured, took place due to human error and negligence.

The audio tapes, one between a journalist and a Railway employee and another between two railway employees make the following claims:

  • A part of the track was being welded at a spot close to the Tilakram Inter College
  • The welded piece of the track was not linked to the rest of the track in the absence of a ‘block’ which was apparently unavailable
  • The elementary precaution of putting up a red flag and barricading the spot was also not taken. In one of the conversations, an employee is heard lamenting that had the flag been there, the engine driver of Utkal Express could possibly have reduced and controlled the speed.
  • The conversation suggests that several key officials in the Division were new and possibly inexperienced.
  • One of the employees is also heard saying that the workers were not being supervised properly, that even patrolling of the track was being done casually in and around Khatauli.
  • As per rules whenever tracks are repaired, a man is posted at the nearest ‘gate’ or crossing to raise the flag. But apparently this was also not done.
  • One of the employees is heard complaining that even workers had begun acting like ‘ministers’ and would not listen to instructions given by supervisors.

While the audio tapes are being examined, there are other questions related to the accident that have been raised. Some media reports have suggested that the workers left the site while leaving the loose track along with some of the equipment behind.

It has been suggested that the workers left the site because of rain while some versions claimed that the workers had left on a drinks break without taking precautions to avert an accident.

The accident has left the Indian Railways red-faced even as people continue to question the misplaced priority given to luxury trains, bullet trains, railway stations like airports etc. at the cost of passenger safety.

Successive Railway budgets have spoken of anti-collusion devices, advance warning systems, satellite based GPS, fire-retardant coaches, Auxiliary warning system, ultrasonic rail testing cars and so on. But they do not seem to have had any impact on the safety record of the Railways. People on social media are now demanding for these safety measures to be implemented.

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Published: 21 Aug 2017, 2:38 PM