Thursday, April 21, 2005

Not as unsafe as you think it is

I have not been traveling by train of late, but that does not mean that my respect for Indian Railways has gone down even a bit. For a railway System that carries 4.2 billion people a year (that's almost the population of the world) every year - the system is extremely safe and robust. I'm a fan, and I believe that it would be unreasonable to be anything but.

Rail accidents are a reality anywhere in the world - even in London and New York - or even on the sparse plains of Siberia. Certainly, not any different India. After all human errors will occur - after all people are human. However, I do take exception to the international press calling the Indian railways a chronically unsafe sytem. As railways go, it is incredibly safe. It's just that when you transport three quarters of the world population every year - some accidents are bound to happen. It's more likely that you shall win a lottery than die in an IR accident. I did not win any lotteries yet - and I am unlikely to do so.

It's not that constructive criticism is not welcome. It's just that labeling it as a decrepit system
is a tad out of sync with reality. IR is probably one of the most well oiled and functional systems in the world. The Guardian says (after that recent accident in Gujarat killing 18)

"Every day at least 13 million people use the state-run network which has poor safety standards and is plagued by accidents"

This typifies the reaction from the international press to any accident in the third world. This shows their utter ignorance of the ground reality of India - and more importantly, an ingnorance of elementary math. Even assuming such an accident occurs once a month, 18 / ( 30 x 13 x 1000000) are odds I can live with. It's more probable that I die while crossing the road - or by a disease.

Perhaps changes are required in the railways. Perhaps it's time we started to respect our envirnoment a little more - and incorporated a little more sophisticated waste disposal system in the railways bathrooms. If only our stations were cleaner....

But look at what the railways have done to keep up with the times. IR has elecrified most important routes - and has a very robust and error free computerised ticketing system on par with any international system - and is contemplating online monitoring of coaches. IR has also improved catering on almost all trains - the food is quite edible now-a-days. The delays are on the decline, of late - and the introdcution of air conditioned 3 tier sleeper cars has the luxury of air conditioning (for such it is in India) within grasp of the massive Indian middle class.

Indian railways is among the cheapest-to-travel-in railways in the world, a massive subsidy to the masses (from the AC class travelers?). This subsidy has managed to keep India together - since there is no other concievalble connection between the distant north and the south - and even the north east. Any compromise on this subsidy might be playing around with the unity of India.

1 comment:

bharath said...

I echo your sentiments in this post. Cant speak a word more...