Indian Railway is today the topmost railway in the world as far as passenger numbers is concerned by transporting passengers equivalent to almost the population of the entire world every year, and with a loading close to 1010 million tonnes in 2012-13, has become the fourth member of the select billion tonne club after USA, China and Russia. Indian Railways is the 3rd largest Rail system in the world, with an asset base of 65187 Route kms, 9000 locomotives, 53000 passenger coaches and 2.3 lakh wagons. Indian Railway today runs in excess of 19000 trains per day including 12000 passengers and 7000 freight, to carry more than 8 billion passengers and over 1000 Million Tonnes of freight per annum through the efforts of a dedicated work force of almost 1.4 million employees.
While the network size (Route Kilometer) of Indian Railways since 1950’s has grown by about 20%, the total track kilometrage has grown by almost 50% from 70,000 kms to 1,15,000 kms. This is because of the thrust on gauge conversions under the Unigauge Policy of Indian railway and doubling of the existing lines for capacity augmentation. In the 12th Plan, Indian Railways have envisaged addition of 4000 km of new line, 5500 km of gauge conversion ,7653 km of doubling and 6500 km of electrification to augment capacity for achieving higher throughput..
In addition to this, a giant leap will also be undertaken in the area of capacity building by commissioning the Eastern & Western Dedicated Freight Corridors (DFC) which would add 3338 Km of 32.5 axle load freight network. The tenders for civil construction of both corridors have been floated and award of contracts is in process. Land acquisition of almost 76% of the corridor has been completed and it is expected that the Dedicated Freight Corridors on these two important routes will be in place by 2017. Indian Railways is also planning four more dedicated freight corridors for which preliminary traffic survey works are being undertaken.
Initiatives on the passenger operations include proliferation of 24 coach trains to cater to large volumes, improved turn round of passenger trains through rationalization of maintenance schedules and coaching operations, progressive introduction of crashworthy LHB coaches with anti climb features to enhance comfort and safety, induction of indigenously designed air-conditioned double decker coach trains for intercity travel and revamping and development of additional coaching terminals.
Other passenger friendly initiatives include:
· Identification of 115 Coach Maintenance Depots for intensive mechanized cleaning of coaches. This has already being implemented in 91 depots.
· Introduction of On Board House Keeping Services (OBHS) on 538 trains including all Rajdhanis, Shatabdi and Durantos, against which the scheme has been implemented on 336 trains.
· Nomination of Clean Train Stations for mechanized cleaning attention with disinfecting of toilets, doorways, aisles on selected identified trains. Of the 30 stations selected on Indian Railways, 29 are now functional.
· Establishment of Mechanized Laundries at 55 locations (19 already functional) for ensuring supply of clean and hygienic bedrolls to passengers.
· Introduction of Bio toilets as a pilot project in 504 units of nine rakes.
Other passenger facilitation measures include:
· Progressive switchover of e-ticketing for reserved accommodation for which a “Next Generation e-ticketing system” is under implementation with a capacity to support 7200 tickets per minute and 1.2 lakh simultaneous users as against the present capacity of 2000 tickets per minute and 40,000 simultaneous users.
· Coverage of a large number of trains under Real Time Information System (RTIS) which will give pinpointed status of passenger train movements through enquiry/mobile phones.
· Provision of free Wi-Fi facilities in several trains.
· Provision of 179 escalators and 400 lifts at category A-1 and other important stations.
· Proactive steps to curb malpractices in reserved ticketing including Tatkal Schemes by rationalizing of booking timings and production of identity proof in all reserved classes.
Initiatives for capacity expansion and modernization have to be guided by the concerns of safety. In pursuance of this objective Indian Railways had formulated a Corporate Safety Plan for period 2003-13. Under the plan, Indian Railways had targeted large scale track renewals, rehabilitation/rebuilding of bridges, mechanization of track maintenance, induction of improved technology in wagons/coaches and upgradation of signaling systems . Over 9166 kms of Track Renewals and rehabilitation of 6218 bridges has been completed, and 55% of the total track has been brought under mechanized maintenance ,as against 35% in 2003-04 . Progressive upgradation of signalling systems have contributed significantly to the safety environment, of which four major thrust areas are noteworthy. These initiatives have resulted in substantial reduction in the number of accidents over the years.
Notwithstanding the fact that Indian Railway proposes to move towards a zero accident regime, it is a matter of satisfaction that even while the freight and passenger traffic has increased manifold, the safety record of Indian Railways as per the universally recognized accident assessment parameter of the number of accidents number of train accidents per million train kilometres show a significant decreasing trend from 0.44 in 2003-04 to 0.13 at the end of 2012-13, thereby surpassing the target of 0.17 stipulated under the Corporate Safety Plan, 2003-04 one year in advance.
Encouraging State Governments/Central PSUs to share the responsibility of building rail infrastructure in the states has also found good response. So far 10 states are sharing the cost of 35 new line , doubling and gauge conversion projects covering a length of 4761 kms with a total cost of almost Rs 33000 crore of which over Rs 5000 crore have been already spent. Likewise PSUs such as NMDC have come forward for investment in the cost of doubling of the 150 km long Jagdalpur-Kirandul rail link at a cost of Rs 827 crores, SECL and IRCON are sharing the cost of 2 projects aimed at substantial coal evacuation in the State of Chattisgarh along with the state costing Rs 4000 crores, and Coal India is also funding certain other rail connectivity projects worth Rs. 2000 crores for improving rail connectivity to its mines in Orissa and Jharkhand.
The financial health of the Railways has been under strain for almost one and half decades. Since 1997-98 upto 2011-12, barring the three year period between 2005-06 to 2007-08, the Operating Ratio of Indian Railway has been above 90%. The situation in fact became alarming over the previous three years since 2009-10 with a sharp deterioration of Fund Balances to the progressive pressures of a steep rise in input costs, particularly those related to manpower and Pensionary commitments following implementation of the recommendations of the 6th Pay Commission. The resultant increase in working expenses without being backed by commensurate revenues necessitated cathartic measures. These included rationalization of freight and fare tariffs, introduction of a Fuel Adjustment Component to neutralize fuel/energy price increases, creation of a New Debt Service Fund, prioritization of essentially required projects, a thrust on alternative funding mechanisms for infrastructure creation and a strong fiscal discipline. These measures are expected to restore fund balances to Rs.12000 crore by 31.03.2014 and pave the way of achieving the ambitious target of Rs.30000 crore by the end of the 12th Five Year Plan.
While Indian Railways is a complex organization there is no doubt that it has successfully delivered in last more than 160 years and will continue to do so.
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