Is the derailment at Nagothane a result of the massive stretching that railway resources are getting nationwide? The thought was uppermost on the minds of railways officials as they spent Sunday going about providing relief in one of the worst railway accidents on Central Railway's network in the recent past.
Officials backing the theory are pointing to a vicious circle. The cash-strapped railways is ensuring that each zonal railway is given what officials call 'extremely ambitious' targets. The zonal railway authorities in turn go about on a train-running spree which means coaches and locomotives are being used far more frequently than before. The result, officials pointed out, is badly-maintained trains and overused tracks.
The rising passenger earnings figures as well the high number of trains run second the fears. Mumbai division of Central Railway which earned Rs 1,408 crore in 2012-13 was given a target of Rs 1,666 crore for the year 2013-14, a rise of over 18 %. The division managed to notch-up Rs 1,662 crore, missing the target by just Rs 4 crore. CR ran 997 special trains during April-December 2013 over the 104 trains that depart from CST and Kurla LTT every day.
On Western Railway the story was much the same. Mumbai division earned Rs 1426 crore from passenger earnings for the financial year ended March 31, a very credible 18 % rise from the Rs 1,207 crore WR's Mumbai division earned for the same period in 2012-13. It ran around 5,224 special trains in April-December 2013 apart from the 65 trains that it runs every day.
"But this stellar performance has come on the back of negligible resource-building. It is the same old rolling stock that is being whipped to bring about more revenue," said an official.
This frenzy to meet targets is also taking a toll on the tracks. "The life of a track is evaluated by something called the Gross Million Tons which is the total weight- of train, passenger, freight- that has gone over the tracks. The maximum weight a track can manage in its entire lifetime is between 550 GMT- if it is 52kg standard rails- or 800 GMT if it is 60kg standard rails. Using a track beyond this limit is an open invitation to disaster," said the official.
Railway investigators will be in the course of their investigation looking into both aspects- the mechanical well-being of the Diva-Swantwadi rake and the single line tracks between Nagothane and Roha which see a massive number of passenger and freight trains every day.
The train's Event Recorder has been retrieved and it would give a lot of data on what exactly happened, said a senior CR official.