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Time to pull the emergency cord?

Once again the State Railway of Thailand is trying hard to absolve itself of responsibility for a serious breach in security aboard its trains

Just as last month's news about the rape and murder of a child aboard a night train was beginning to fade from memory, the State Railway of Thailand has hit the headlines again.

Compared with the tragic case of the girl molested and killed - a crime that sent shock waves through the country - this week's incident was minor, but it nevertheless adds to mounting evidence that this state enterprise desperately needs revamping.

On Tuesday, nine sleeping passengers on a Sungai Kolok-bound train woke up to find their mobile phones and cash missing.

The passengers in the second-class sleeping car, along with the paramilitary ranger on guard duty, suspect they were somehow rendered unconscious by foul play.

Police at Hat Yai Railway Station were called in to investigate and found that, of the 30 passengers in the car, nine had lost phones and cash.

The ranger guarding the car said the robbery was likely carried out after 3am, when he and other passengers had fallen into what they describe as an unusually deep sleep.

Railway police commander Pol Maj-General Thanang Buranont maintains that the two policemen on duty patrolled the cars properly when the train stopped at stations and made sure the doors on the sleeping cars were closed at 10pm as part of security procedures.

Thanang said no further investigation was needed because there was nothing to suggest someone from outside had entered the sleeping car after the doors were secured for the night.

Experience should have taught Thanang to wait for all the evidence before jumping to such a conclusion and hastily absolving train officials of blame. We are not suggesting that the police officers failed to carry out their routine patrol at each stop. But did it not occur to them that the robbery could have been carried out when they weren't around?

Once again the SRT has tried hard to absolve itself of responsibility. After last month's incident, the management was quick to distance itself from the employee who confessed to rape and murder. He has a long record of drug arrests and even confessed to having raped two women on the train previously. He said he had been drinking with co-workers and that he was on drugs when he molested and killed the 13-year-old girl. If this is true, there was something seriously wrong in the behaviour of SRT staff aboard this train. What were they doing while the crime unfolded - minding their own business?

Though the public has lost much trust in the SRT, the agency continues to respond to its failures with shallow statements that often land it in more hot water.

The safety of passengers is not something the SRT can afford to take lightly. It needs to probe deeper and come up with convincing solutions for this and other problems that plague its service, including the fact that the SRT is among the country's least-profitable state enterprises.

If crimes continue to occur with such frequency aboard trains, a thorough overhaul of our state railway must follow. At the end of the day, if the SRT is unable to deliver safe and efficient public transport, the entire management and board should look for other jobs.


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