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Tuesday, December 14, 2004

travails of rail travel

TRAVAILS OF RAIL TRAVEL
Ever since the beginning of civilization, travel has been in the forefront of all human activities. In prehistoric days, ones pair of feet was considered to be adequate. Then, some bright individual invented the wheel. This was followed by various combinations of the wheel – the human powered bicycle, the human pulled rickshaws, the horse drawn carriages, in India there were bullock carts. One day, these surrendered to the automobile, the train, the aero plane and, if everything goes according to plans, soon we may be teleporting ourselves from one location to another as in Star Wars.
Side by side, we had the harnessing of wind power to let sail boats convey us via the water route. George Stephenson invented the steam engine and gave an impetus to faster modes of travel – both over land and by water. How the early American settlers fought to lay the rail roads has become history – a basic theme for all those Westerns that used to be a rage when Jackie Chan, Nicholas Cage and Albert Schwarzenegger were unheard of. Rail travel, became a luxury with the advent of the Trans Siberian Railway – which was the backdrop of a favorite Agatha Christie whodunit. In India, we introduced various luxury trains to be paid for in dollars with an intention to woo the foreign tourists. Running on specific routes between New Delhi and Jodhpur, they have a fixed itinerary. Every year, Rail budgets are drawn up to bridge innumerable types of gaps – most important one being between earnings and expenditures. Since rail travel is an extremely popular means of transportation for both people and luggage, sufficient care has to be taken to ensure that the Government of the day remains popular. As result, certain concessions have to be made ……
But, when a train fails to reach its destination, eyebrows are raised. Questions are asked. The electronic media move their OBVs into position to give a first hand view of maligned carriages, of covered stretchers, of wailing relatives, of shocked survivors. A string of help lines are announced followed by ex gratia payments, visits of dignitaries of the Railway board along with the concerned Minister followed by his retinue of dedicated followers. Statistics are put forth to justify that the percentage of such happenings are not as bad as in some other countries. And – at the end of it all, an enquiry committee is set up with directions to submit a report within fifteen days.
Whether the calamity was as a result of sabotage or negligence or an accident that was waiting to happen remain answered. Everyone plays out the role assigned to him to perfection. It is really strange that, when other countries boast of running trains at more than double our speeds with hardly any accidents, we are never able to take actions that need to be taken to avoid accidents.
We love to shed crocodile tears.
Accountability is totally absent in all our dealings. We conveniently forget that we would not have any ready answers when we face our ultimate destination.


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