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30 January 2017 Editorial


30 January 2017

Keeping safety on the rails

The preliminary finding of the Commission of Railway Safety that the derailment of the Indore-Rajendranagar Express near Kanpur in November 2016 that killed over 140 people was primarily caused by carriage and wagon defects should serve as a reality check for the Railway Ministry. While sabotage is indeed a factor in some derailments, bad railway performance is responsible for the majority. The CRS report merits serious consideration: it has specifically identified a variation in the wheel gauges of two coaches, and found carriages being run beyond their useful life. This is not a rare instance where inquiries have found the Railways seriously deficient. In fact, the annual report of the CRS Lucknow for 2012-13 cites failure of railway equipment, derelict staff, rail fractures and, on some occasions, non-railway factors to be responsible for fatal accidents. The collision of the Hubli-Bengaluru City Hampi Express with a goods train that left 25 people dead, for instance, was caused by failure of staff. The Kakodkar committee on railway safety found that out of 441 derailments it analysed, only about 15% were the result of sabotage, while the majority were caused by factors completely under the control of the railway administration.

India’s Railways serves the vital function of providing travel access to millions, and, as Mahatma Gandhi wrote in his article ‘Third Class in Indian Railways’, have the responsibility of making it equitable and comfortable. It must also be safe. The Railway Ministry is pursuing a major safety initiative, the Rashtriya Rail Sanraksha Kosh, with a non-lapsable corpus of ?1,19,183 crore. Not only should such a fund be constituted, given the past contribution of dedicated safety funds to rail track renewal, it should be governed by a transparent framework with public reporting requirements. The Finance Ministry says the Fund should rely mainly on internal resources, but there is a strong case for higher gross budgetary support to raise safety in a government-run transport network that has a universal service obligation. Replacing ageing and unsafe carriages with modern Linke Hofmann Busch coaches is a five-year-old Kakodkar panel recommendation, but supply has not kept pace with requirement. Travel demand has, meanwhile, continued to leap as economic growth both needs and encourages greater mobility. Raising the performance of the Indian Railways needs a clear vision for both service and financing, with zero tolerance for accidents. Along with technologies such as ultrasonic flaw detection to keep tracks safe, Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu and his team must look at ways to carry more passengers safely.





Simply the best

In times to come, 2017 will be remembered by tennis fans as the year the Australian Open went retro. For, it featured the big-stage revival of two of the sport’s most storied rivalries. Roger Federer was pushed to the limit by Rafael Nadal’s relentless, shape-shifting style before the Swiss maestro’s sublime artistry prevailed in a classic — his third win in nine Major finals over the Spaniard, his 18th Grand Slam crown and his first since Wimbledon in 2012. And Serena Williams, playing sister Venus in a Major final after nearly eight years, continued her dominance, capturing a professional-era record 23rd title. The warm nostalgia these great champions evoked was accompanied by the thrill of the unexpected. Of the four, only Serena’s presence in the final was unsurprising. The resurgence of the old guard — the first time in the Open Era that all four finalists were over the age of 30 — might have had something to do with the faster courts in Melbourne this year. Federer, among others, certainly thought so. He said it kept points shorter than normal and made fewer demands of the body. He also felt that those who had started out before 2005 had an edge — they were more instinctively attuned to the quicker movement of the ball.

It takes singular skill and a certain ruthlessness, however, to make capital of the smallest advantages, and Federer and Serena, and to a marginally lesser extent Nadal and Venus, did precisely that. Federer, who missed six months last year with an injury, knew he could not allow Nadal time and space. With his opponent looking in excellent physical condition, Federer could not afford to be drawn into long, bruising rallies; he had to dictate the tempo of play. This meant taking the ball uncomfortably early, with a narrow margin for error, and it required all of Federer’s genius to pull it off. He also had to overcome the psychological scars of past defeats to Nadal. Federer’s nerve in big matches against his greatest rival has been questioned before, but on Sunday he displayed a calm resolve. Serena, too, had to master her emotions against Venus, who is both beloved sister and formidable threat. While her explosive athleticism is the most apparent facet of her game, Serena’s underrated tennis intelligence has contributed significantly to her capturing a record 10 Grand Slam titles after turning 30. With their triumphs in Melbourne, Federer and Serena, both 35, managed what only a few of the greats have. They quietened the voice of doubt that speaks in every athlete’s ear — a voice that grows more persistent with age — and raged against the dying of the light.


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