The derailment of a Dammam–Riyadh train on Wednesday injuring about 52 people once again brought the Saudi Railways Organization (SRO) into the news.
Over the years I have read about trains stopping midway, or hitting a camel or a truck. I never heard of a train overturning before! The pictures are frightening. How could this happen? There was no sabotage nor was the train traveling over the speed limit!
An official SRO spokesman told the media: “Thank God, there were no deaths”.
We also thank God there were no deaths although hardly ten days ago there was one – a truck driver mowed down by a train at a railway crossing. We are not blaming the SRO for this particular incident as unfortunately many truck drivers have no driving sense and cross railway lines oblivious to all safety measures.
However, this latest derailment is a serious matter and should not be taken lightly nor should it be whitewashed by PR statements.
Only a few weeks ago a brand new high-tech train stopped midway in the desert. Millions had been paid to obtain this state-of-the-art technology. Of course the blame was placed on the Spanish manufacturers!
We have to take matters seriously. Over 15 people have died in the past few years because of train accidents. These are people, they are not statistics!
We hear of tens of millions of riyals allocated for safety features, but they have failed to prevent these recurring accidents.
There must be a problem. SRO officials can’t blame the heat, Spanish technology, irresponsible drivers or dish out excuses right and left.
Enough is enough.
And bland statements will not do.
I strongly believe that a high powered team of experts, and if we don’t have any available here we should get them from outside, should investigate thoroughly the cause of these railway accidents. Is it due to the incapability of those who manage and run these trains? Is it due to lack of experience among the top brass at the Saudi Railways Organization?
And while we do understand that “train culture” is new here, we should also realize that available funds have brought us the best technology that the industry offers. However, it is not always the machine, but the man behind the machine that finally matters.
These accidents have provided fuel for criticism and jokes and comparisons between the Saudi railway system and others around the globe. However much we add humor to an already serious situation, it will not allay the fears and misgivings about train journeys in the Kingdom.
If a simple one track journey cannot be undertaken from Dammam to Riyadh without accidents, then what will happen when there is a network of railway lines across the Kingdom. And this is the responsibility of all those who are connected with the railways.
Yes, we do believe that accidents happen and that they happen all over the world, but we will not accept them here in a country where railway services are limited.
We will not accept feeble excuses and justifications and talk about the manufacturers defects.
Human lives are at stake. Thank God nobody was killed in this particular accident, but, God forbid, in the future something more catastrophic could occur if the SRO does not get its act together.
The public demands a full and open enquiry and for those at the top to take responsibility and be accountable for all these railway mishaps.
That is the very least that we expect.— The author can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org