Even as the latest rail accident claimed 60 lives and injured 150 people in West Bengal, the railway ministry is still prevaricating over installing anti-collision devices (ACDs) on its trains.
This year, 13 accidents, including the latest one, have claimed scores of lives, and the impact at Sainthia station in Birbhum Monday was so severe that the top of one of the coaches rammed into the foot overbridge across the platform.
Officials say the ACD, designed and developed by former Konkan Railway managing director B. Rajaram, has a success rate of 99.9 percent in preventing collisions after it was commissioned by the Konkan Railway and the Northeast Frontier Railway.
Incidentally, it also had the support of Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee in her earlier stint at Rail Bhavan here.
'Its implementation is being delayed over the years by successive revision of norms by the Railway Board even though the technology met the conditions successfully in every instance,' Rajaram, an alumnus of the Indian Institute of Technology at Kharagpur, told IANS.
Rajaram raised this issue with Banerjee in a letter written April 5 this year, drawing her attention to the money earmarked for the Research Design and Standards Organisation (RDSO), the ministry's apex research body.
'Indian Railway never produced a world class technology since independence. We spend so much of funds on RDSO, but we have nothing innovative of world class to export from RDSO or even to be used on Indian Railways,' he said.
'We just import. RDSO is used to assist to import.'
The letter said the device named 'Raksha Kavach' was developed indigenously and was even singled out from the millions of global patents and praised as a unique safety system by the World Intellectual Property Office in Geneva.
'But the multinational companies which have much to lose if ACD comes in operation, have consistenly been fighting a proxy technology war using our own retired and even working railway officers.'
He went on to say that at every stage of development, hurdles were raised and said its implementation in the Northeast Frontier Railway would have been blocked but for former railway minister and present Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar.
Then Railway Board chairman K.C. Jena had stated that ACDs were to be installed in the southern zones by 2009 before its phase-wise implementation in all railway zones.
The ACD pilot project was assigned to the Northeast Frontier Railway for thorough testing, considered to be among the most challenging zones for railway safety and plagued by erratic power supplies and faulty signalling.
'Railway experts, doubting if the technology will work under highly adverse conditions prevailing in Northeast Frontier Railway, said if the ACD showed results it will succeed anywhere in the world. Its success silenced its critics,' Rajaram said.
The ACD, showcased by National Geographic channel, detects the presence of two trains approaching each other, or even when a speeding train moves towards a stationary train on the same track, bringing them to an immediate halt before possible collision.
'The ACDs fill up gaps of what existing systems cannot do, like averting collisions even in block sections (the distance between two stations beyond the range of signals) and in foggy weather when signals are not visible,' said Rajaram.
(Shudip Talukdar can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)