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Assam: Northeast Frontier Railway freight operations raise safety concerns

02:08 PM Jun 22, 2024 IST | NE NOW NEWS
UpdateAt: 02:08 PM Jun 22, 2024 IST
The recent surge in freight train operations by the Northeast Frontier Railway (NFR) in Assam has sparked serious concerns about passenger safety.

Guwahati: The recent surge in freight train operations by the Northeast Frontier Railway (NFR) in Assam has sparked serious concerns about passenger safety. While the NFR boasts a near nine percent increase in freight unloading, reaching 12,180 rakes between April and January of the 2022-23 fiscal year, critics allege this growth comes at a dangerous cost.

The NFR transports a wide variety of goods, including essential supplies like FCI rice, sugar, salt, edible oils and fertilizer, across its vast network. However, sources within the railway itself raise troubling questions about the prioritization of profit over safety protocols.

Increased Freight Traffic, Potential Safety Risks:

The rapid rise in freight train activity is said to disrupt passenger train schedules, creating a potentially hazardous situation. Allegations point towards a disregard for designated speed limits and a lack of proper coordination between freight and passenger train movements. This raises the chilling spectre of accidents like the horrific collision near New Jalpaiguri station in West Bengal, where a goods train slammed into Sealdah-bound Kanchanjungha express tragically claiming at least nine lives and injuring over 46 people.

While the NFR claims an average freight train speed of 45.37 kmph, sources report instances of trains exceeding these limits significantly. One example cited is a freight train traveling from Punjab’s Rajpura junction  to Jogighopa in Assam in less than 20 hours, covering a distance of around 2,000 kilometers.

A thorough investigation is needed to identify and rectify any lapses in NFR's safety procedures.

Demurrage Concerns and Allegations of Manipulation:

Beyond the immediate safety concerns, whispers of financial motives further muddy the waters. Some sources allege that the NFR strategically increases freight trains carrying FCI rice with the sole intention of levying demurrage charges on FCI contractors. Demurrage refers to fees imposed on those who fail to load or unload railway wagons within a specific timeframe.

The accusations paint a disturbing picture. The NFR is allegedly scheduling freight deliveries to coincide with holidays like Bihu, Christmas, and Eid, knowing full well that labor shortages will inevitably lead to delays and subsequent demurrage charges for FCI contractors struggling to clear the backlog. A recent incident at Jogighopa shade in Assam, where a freight train carrying FCI rice arrived during Eid and caused significant logistical problems for contractors due to a lack of available labor, serves as a prime example.

In Joghighopa shade, FCI contractors faced problems when rakes were placed back-to-back on May 11 and May 12, 2024, and again on June 10 and 11, 2024. This caused delays in clearing the wagons, resulting in hefty demurrage charges (penalties for exceeding the allocated time to unload) for the FCI contractors.

Similar situations occurred at other locations. For instance, at Bairabi goods shade in Mizoram, two FCI freight rakes arrived back-to-back on the same date, March 20, 2024. Rake No. RR 262001189 arrived at 6:00 AM, followed by Rake No. RR 262001399 just over two hours later at 8:35 AM.

Another instance of back-to-back arrivals took place at the same location on February 11 and 12, 2024. Where rake No. RR 262002717 arrived on February 11, 2024, at 9:35 AM, and Rake No. RR 262000263 arrived one day later, on February 12, 2024, at 7:00 AM.

These allegations raise questions about a potential collusion between NFR and FCI officials, prioritizing financial gain over the safety and efficiency of rail operations.

The NFR has a duty to ensure the safety of both passengers and railway personnel. A transparent and comprehensive investigation into the alleged safety violations is crucial.