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Railway budget will decide fortunes of India’s lifeline

Monday, July 07, 2014

The next 24 hours will decide the fortunes of the Indian Railways. A huge overhaul is expected from the new NDA government’s first Rail Budget, writes Gajanan Khergamker

The much-touted rail finance bill dubbed as ‘the lifeline of India’ will be presented in the Parliament tomorrow. Two days before the new government presents its first budget, the rail finance bill will be presented in Parliament. A colossal overhaul is being expected to move India’s lifeline on the right track.
The recent Mumbai local railway fare hike had put almost everyone from commuters to activists, even local politicians in a tizzy. More than half of the city’s population commutes using the city’s lifeline on a daily basis. The Mumbai local railway caters to around 75 lakh commuters on a daily basis, and the Modi-led government had, just a few weeks back, suggested a fare hike of maximum 187 per cent in local fares. The Indian Railway in general and the Mumbai local railway suffer loss of crores of rupees on a daily basis. This hike, partially rolled back after severe protest from commuters and local politicians alike, was created to offset the losses.

One derailment every fifth day on an average
According to an RTI query filed by Moradabad-based Salim Beg, Indian Railways recorded a derailment every fifth day on an average during the period of 2007-12, The figures provided in a reply to the application revealed that a total of 115 people lost their lives while 800 were left injured in 400 derailments registered between April 1, 2007 to March 31, 2012, which translates to about an accident every fifth day.

Of this, the maximum number of derailments occurred during 2007-08.

During this period around 100 such accidents were reported in which 13 passengers were killed while 145 were injured. The figures declined a little in 2008-09 when 85 derailments took 10 lives and 142 were left injured. Similarly, in 2009-10, 80 derailments claimed 14 lives and 91 were injured.

In 2010-11, 80 derailments caused four deaths and left 55 injured while in 2011-12, 55 derailments caused 74 deaths and left 367 injured, revealed the reply.

It needs to be noted that there was a major accident during the period 2011-12 when a Delhi-bound Howrah-Kalka Mail derailed near Fatehpur killing 71 people and injuring 268 persons.

Steps are being taken by the authorities to prevent derailments but there needs to be more regular checks for these occurrences. Apparently, the series of measures taken by the Railways to prevent derailments include the use of pre-stressed concrete as sleepers on tracks and standardisation of railway tracks to reduce fatigue of rails under higher axle-load traffic.

The reply to the RTI application also said the Railways has started using long-rail panels to minimise number of welded joints thus reducing risk of derailments. besides all the rails and welds are being ultrasonically tested as per laid down periodicity. According to the reply, the Railways has also using modern track maintenance machines namely tie-tamping, ballast cleaning machines, track recording cards, digital ultrasonic flaw detectors, self-propelled ultrasonic rail-testing cars among others to avoid such derailments.

The Railway has also starting to manufacture coaches with centre buffer couplers with anti-climbing features to minimise effects of accidents and the organisation is also conducting electronic monitoring of track geometry to detect defects and planning maintenance accordingly to reduce these accidents, the reply said.

Automatic doors, disposable linens expected in budget
With the new railway bill in the line, better things are expected for the overall improvement of rail services in the nation. Already there are reports indicating that suggestions like the inclusion of disposable linen in Rajdhani trains, automatic closing doors in Shatabdi and fire suppression systems in passenger coaches will be included in the Rail Budget 2014-15.

Heeding to the demand from the manufacturing sector, it is being speculated that the railways will also be finalising its budgetary plan to develop high capacity wagons to transport more steel coils. As per the plan, the state-run transporter is proposing to develop wagons which can carry up to 3,944 tons of coils. At the moment, the carrying capacity of wagons is 2,346 tons.

The Rail Budget is likely to propose development of high capacity parcel vans in hopes of generating more revenue from the parcel movement. Reports claim, better passenger amenities and strengthening of safety and security in trains are likely to be focus of Railway Minister Sadananda Gowda in his first-ever Rail Budget. Further, in a step towards providing better amenities and hygienic conditions in trains, the Railways have decided to start a pilot project of providing disposable bedrolls in Bangalore Rajdhani Express as well. Other agendas being speculated for the Railway Bill include the introduction of high speed trains.

Diamond quadrilateral of high-speed trains in 10 years
President Pranab Mukherjee in his speech, last month had mentioned that the one of the main agendas for the rail sector this term would be to develop the ‘diamond quadrilateral’ of high speed trains in the country. 

While referring to the media, he had also said that the government will chalk out an ambitious infrastructure development programme that will be implemented in the next 10 years. A network of freight corridors with specialised agri-rail networks for perishable agricultural products was also mentioned by the President in his address.

For the past six year, railways have been attempting to introduce high-speed corridors trains in the country. Although initial studies have been conducted for Pune-Mumbai-Ahmedabad and Delhi-Chandigarh-Amritsar corridors, the Railways is yet to decide on the financing model for any of the corridors. The rail bill is expected to have mention of the financial model for the high-speed rail corridor.

Passenger safety one of key features in the bill
High-speed trains apart, solar energy for railways is also something the new government is keen upon. The ministers are expected to announce the installation of Solar panels on rooftops of railways platforms, colonies and other railways land to generate the required amount of solar energy. This can slightly offset the losses that the railways have been suffering on a daily basis.

Further to reduce fuel costs, the railway minister is also expected to introduce the usage of liquefied natural gas and ethanol-blended diesel in locomotives.
And lastly, mention of passenger safety is also expected to find its way in the rail bill. Keeping in mind the frequent accidents of derailment and collisions in Indian Railways, the finance ministry will also be focusing on repairing outdated and broken rail network in the Budget this time.

A lot is being expected from this new budget. And, speculations of what all is going to be include in the bill is promising too.

But it’s the final outcome that will be passed after the bill is submitted in the parliament which will matter the most.

CRS nod for train service to Katra base camp 
There have been a couple of developments in the Railways. Just recently, the Railways got the mandatory safety clearance from the Commissioner of Railway Safety (CRS) to commission the much-awaited train service to Katra, the base camp of Vaishno Devi shrine.

The 53km-long Jammu-Udhampur rail line is already operational. And, once the Udhampur-Katra line - a part of the Kashmir rail link project – becomes operational, trains will be able to ply all the way to Katra directly. This will enable pilgrims headed to the Vaishno Devi shrine to travel directly to the base camp at Katra.

The Railways is planning on extending Jammu Mail and Sampark Kranti trains up to Katra. Also plans are being made to introduce new trains, including Katra-Kalka Express, Delhi Sarai Rohilla-Udhampur Express, and Ahmedabad-Udhampur Express.

Economically-unviable trains need to be phased out
The Railways will also need to figure out to work out a solution for economically-unviable trains that add to the thousands of crores of rupees of loss that it has to bear. An RTI application back in 2012 had revealed the Railway had 41 services that were adding on to the losses of the railway. 

The RTI reply said that Central Railway suffered a loss of Rs 903 crore in 2009-10 and of Rs 522 crore in 2008-09. Losses to the Railways on account of passenger traffic was expected to reach Rs. 24,600 crore in 2012-13 from Rs. 22,500 crore in 2011-12. The number of passengers has increased from 8,000 in 2001 to over 12,000 in 2012, yet losses continue to increase.

Hopefully, this year, the government will be able to offset some of the losses with the new budgetary plan. Till that happens, it does look like an uphill task.

With inputs from Prerna Pandey

Indian Railway needs an urgent overhaul

  • According to an RTI query filed by Moradabad-based Salim Beg, Indian Railways recorded a derailment every fifth day on an average during the period of 2007-12, The figures provided in a reply to the application revealed that a total of 115 people lost their lives while 800 were left injured in 400 derailments registered between April 1, 2007 to March 31, 2012, which translates to about an accident every fifth day
  • RTI application back in 2012 had revealed the Railway had 41 services that were adding on to the losses of the railway.  The RTI reply said that Central Railway suffered a loss of Rs 903 crore in 2009-10 and of Rs 522 crore in 2008-09. Losses to the Railways on account of passenger traffic was expected to reach Rs. 24,600 crore in 2012-13 from Rs. 22,500 crore in 2011-12. The number of passengers has increased from 8,000 in 2001 to over 12,000 in 2012, yet losses continue to increase.

Readers keen on seeking help on drafting RTI applications may write in to rti@draftcraft.in or call Gajanan Khergamker on 022-22841593 for any assistance on RTI or to have their findings / issue featured on this page

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