The new railways minister has also decided to man all unmanned level crossings within a year.
New Delhi: Rattled by the recent spate of derailments, the Indian Railways has decided to pause the laying of new lines for three months in order to fully concentrate on replacing the damaged tracks across the country.
The new railways dispensation has also decided to man all the unmanned level crossings within a year. Till now, the practice was to utilise maximum available new rails for laying new tracks. The replacement of damaged and stressed rail lines was secondary.
Every year, the railways procures about 5,000-km long new rails from the Steel Authority of India (SAIL), out of which 3,000-3,500 km rails used to be utilised for laying new tracks, including doubling, trebling and gauge conversion.
In a recent safety review meeting, the new railway minister Piyush Goyal took the drastic decision of not joining the race for adding new lines and instead utilise the available rails only for track renewal purpose.
Currently, the railways is laying about 7 kms of new rail in a day and the aim was to increase it to at least 12 kms per day.
However, taking strong exception to the ongoing practice, Goyal told the concerned officials present in the high-level meeting to fully focus on the track renewal which involves maintenance, repair and replacement of stressed rails.
On September 7, three trains derailed in the span of 12 hours. Though no casualties were reported, the mishaps caused massive disruptions in train services, which affected the time schedule. Rail fractures and unmanned level crossings are a major reason behind train accidents, and there is a need to replace these stressed tracks and to ensure effective manning of level crossings.
A senior railway ministry official involved with the safety works said that the laying of new lines has been put off for the time being to take up track renewal job on a priority basis. Emphasising track renewal, Goyal favoured procurement of rails from the market as well as from SAIL.
Taking note of the large number of unmanned level crossings, Goyal also wanted to deal with the problem in a timely manner.
Currently, the railways has about 4,000 unmanned level crossings on the busy rail corridors across the country. Earlier, it had set the target of eliminating all unmanned level crossings on busy routes by 2020 by diverting the road traffic through overbridge or underbridge. However, now it has been decided to deploy a guard called a rail mitra at every unmanned level crossing with immediate effect to prevent road users from jumping the signal.
While the construction of rail overbridges and underbridges will continue, the deployment of rail mitras would be immediate, the official said. It was also decided that anti-fog LED lights would be installed in locomotives to increase the visibility.
According to the railways, despite derailments, no injury or casualty was reported because of Linke Hofmann Busch (LHB) coaches, which are equipped with anti-climbing features. Hence, it has been decided to replace all conventional coaches with the modern LHB coaches, he said.
Arun Kumar Das is a senior journalist.