|Monday, 11 February 2002|
It was heartbreaking to hear and listen to the gory rail accident which occurred at Rambukkana recently. As there are several probe committees appointed to probe into the matter, I will refrain from making any averment on the cause of it or whatever.
What my mind addressed is the quantum of cash payable to the dependents or kith and kin of the deceased in such an occasion. According to the newspapers, it is a paltry ten thousand rupees for funeral expenses. In this particular instance, among the victims, there are dead, injured, permanently disabled so on and so forth. There would have been family breadwinners.
It is the duty of the Government to formulate a scheme to cover the unfortunate victims by way of an insurance policy or any formidable mechanism to pay adequate compensation as the tragedy has occurred not due to an atom of carelessness or fault on the part of the victims but due to circumstances beyond their control. If these methods are not feasible, a compensation tribunal should be appointed, and compensation paid through the President's Fund. When politicians are paid in millions from the Fund to meet their medical bills abroad, the small man should also be thought of in his hour of need.
It has been and is the policy of successive governments to extend a meagre funeral expense dole and forget the matter thereafter. Be it bomb victims, raid or road accident victims, or any other calamitous tragedy, the interest of the members of the public must be looked after as they have fallen into a hapless position not due to any fault of theirs.
It is a matter of deep concern for railway travellers that derailment accidents have become rather frequent while a couple of decades ago it was rarely that reports of such accidents were heard. The worst of such disasters happened at Rambukkana recently with the death toll rising to fifteen and about two hundred injured, some of whom are maimed for life. Laudably the Minister for Transport took prompt action to have the causes that led to this disaster investigated and according to reports negligence on the part of the train driver is said to be the main reason for this disaster resulting in the death of 15 passengers and about 200 injured, some disabled for life, while deterrent punishment is absolutely necessary in such cases of dereliction of duty, the pertinent question is what about the families of those who died and those that lost their capacity to earn their livelihood.
Can a few thousand rupees compensate such losses. Apparently the only solution seems to be to put into effect a scheme of insurance for railway travellers to cover every ticket holder. In such a scheme a death can be compensated by even a few millions depending on the earning capacity of the individual and substantive work he or she was engaged in. The Railway Dept. it is felt should take speedy action with the insurance institutions to work out a suitable insurance scheme for railway travellers for which no doubt the Minister for Transport would offer his blessings.
It is public knowledge that the Railway Dept., has deteriorated due to lack of dedication and general laxity, a sorry state of affairs. Party differences too are hindering improvement. It is time that all these negative forces are put aside for the sake of the country and our future generations. Had the railway been managed by a company it would have run much more efficiently.
I. P. NANAYAKKARA-Kalutara
It was horrific to hear about the train disaster between kandy and Colombo recently. Since of late the country has recorded derailments of trains which occurred sporadically. The Minister of Transport has gone on record by saying to the media that train services in the country are running at a loss. First it was the private buses which exceeded the speed limits on our roads and plunged over the kerb, and still at present exposing the passengers to danger. The train services in the outstations could be said to be running at a loss while those plying between major towns are overcrowded. With the increasing train fare commuters have not been given the additional comfort and convenience that they expect from the railway authorities. Still most of the trains in the country run late in spite of having a strict travel schedule. It should be brought to the attention of all those concerned that as long as one can remember trains travelling from Kandy to Colombo go at breakneck speed between Rambukkana and Kadigamuwa. This could be the cause to catch up on lost time, absence of other trains between these two stations or what could be a natural slope of the ground stretched long, causing excessive speed of the trains. Surprisingly those concerned have not put much thought to this phenomenon because in one way it satisfied the commuters who want to get to their destination quickly irrespective of the speed. Only a major disaster such as the one happened recently between Colombo and Kandy would be an eye-opener to all railway commuters. The Government has the efficiency to normalise train services (including others) when such accidents occur which is laudable and on this instance has compensated the bereaved. The railway authorities should take precautionary measures to avoid such disasters in the future. Faulty sleepers and iron rail tracks should be identified. It should be remembered that safety is more important than speed and comfort. The Railway Department should apply 'the brakes' before such disasters happen again.
It is said that there were 429 train accidents during the year 2000 and 376 in the following year. With the dawn of this year the worst train tragedy took place on Jan. 13, between Kadigamuwa and Rambukkana on the main line when the Kandy-Colombo intercity got derailed, killing 15 and wounding more than 150 passengers.
If this is the plight of the Sri Lanka Railways (SLR) today needless to say that the position will become worse, in the foreseeable future, unless safety measures are taken to prevent such accidents. In the old days trains were considered as the safest mode of travel in Sri Lanka and the cheapest and the most comfortable.
The latest tragedy near Rambukkana, according to the driver of the train happened due to a fault in the brake system of the locomotive. The Railway Department seems to put the blame on the driver for his negligence to prevent such a mishap, causing great loss to life and property.
The first major train accident took place near Katukurunda on March 12, 1928. The GMR at that time was T.E. Dutton. An enquiry into the mishap was held by Lt. Col. F. R. H. Eustace of the Indian Railways and disciplinary action was taken against one of the guards of the two trains involved in the accident. There was no action against the drivers as they both died on the spot.
In order to prevent similar happenings in the future, deterrent punishment should be given to those involved in the Rambukkana tragedy after an impartial enquiry.
We were involved in the train disaster on 13th January when the Intercity Express between Kandy and Colombo derailed at Rambukkana.
Having been back in England for just over one week we have had time to reflect on our experience.
We were pleased with the prompt response of the local community who got on with the job of getting people out of the wreckage and helping the injured to the road. Also the many volunteers with vehicles of all description who ferried people to the local hospital.
Our thanks goes also to staff at Rambukkana Hospital who despite the overwhelming workload, managed to assess us and make us as comfortable as they could with our painful injuries. The drinks provided by volunteers were very welcome.
We were grateful that our property was recovered from the wreckage and stored safely until we were able to reclaim it.
The Tourist Board offered us assistance to ease our passage and SriLankan Airlines made our long journey back to England as comfortable as possible.
DEREK AND JULIE BROWN-U.K.
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