Saturday, December 24, 2011

2011 revisited | Not a smooth ride for Railways
Press Trust of India / New Delhi December 24, 2011, 12:31 IST

It was a tough ride for new Railway Minister Dinesh Trivedi in 2011 as the PSU behemoth was beset with severe fund crunch, frequent accidents, delays in key projects and thousands of posts lying vacant.
Soon after Mamata Banerjee became chief minister of West Bengal in May, the Railway Ministry was under Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's direct control till July 13, when Trivedi took over the reins.

But his honeymoon period was short-lived because no sooner he took over, he had to rush to the Howrah Kalka Mail accident site at Fatehpur in Uttar Pradesh to oversee the relief and rescue operation. The accident claimed 68 lives.

Since then his stint has been fraught with multiple challenges. Cash crunch led to inordinate delays in completion of key rail projects, with Railways requiring about Rs 1,25,000 cr to complete 129 new lines, 45 gauge conversion and 160 doubling projects. Similarly several safety-related projects for upgrading of signalling system are on hold due to paucity of funds.

There were 129 deaths due to train accidents in 2011.

There were also problems in iron ore and coal loadings due to various reasons, as a result of which it appears difficult for the Railways to meet the freight target of 993 million tonnes (MT) in the current fiscal. The total freight carried during April-November was 593.43 MT.

Though Trivedi has hinted on several occasions of considering the proposal for exploring rationalisation of passenger fares which has not been touched for eight years, he has failed to do so. Railways earned a Rs 66,126.39 crore from April to November.

Constrained to balance the expenses, Railways was forced to curtail its wagon procurement order from 18,000 in the current fiscal to 12,000 for the next fiscal.

Wagon procurement is considered crucial for Railways as it is the wagon that earns profit which enables it to subsidise passenger traffic, especially in lower classes.

Railways' working expenses increased from Rs 41,033 crore in 2007-08 to Rs 73,650 crore in 2011-12 and the pension outgo during the period increased from Rs 7,953 crore to Rs 16,000 crore.

Facing the fund crunch, Railways knocked the Finance Ministry's door seeking Rs 2,000 crore as immediate relief. However, the Finance Ministry told the Railways to generate the resources internally.

Rail mishaps including fire in trains continued at regular pace exposing the lack of preparedness by the national transporter.

While three AC coaches of Mumbai Rajdhani were consumed by fire in April, Howrah-Dehradun Express witnessed a similar mishap, although in a limited scale, killing seven passengers including two children in November 22.

In the absence of installation of Train Protection and Warning System, fog continued to create havoc for train operation resulting in delays in several hours causing much inconvenience to passengers.

Some zones are exploring a fog-safe device to alert drivers about an approaching signal during poor visibility.

The much-delayed anti-collision device to prevent train accidents is also being developed under a new avatar after the existing one encountered problems.

Trivedi had to deal with large number of vacant posts including safety-related posts in Railways. Currently, there are about 60,000 loco pilot and assistant loco pilot posts among other posts lying vacant. Trivedi constituted two expert committees to suggest safety measures and modernisation plans.

While the safety panel is being headed by former Atomic Energy Commission chief Anil Kakodkar, the modernisation committee was constituted under the chairmanship of Sam Pitroda.

Railways made changes to eliminate the possibility of booking of tickets by touts under Tatkal by reducing the advance reservation period of the scheme from two days to one day.

Besides, the restriction for agents was extended from one hour to two hours (8 am to 10 am) and there will be no refund on confirmed Tatkal tickets subject to the exceptions such as cancellation of trains and late running trains.

World Bank signed a $975 million loan agreement with the government for execution of the Railway's ambitious Dedicated Freight Corridor project in its eastern corridor. The financing for the project will cover 1,130 km of the 1,839-km corridor which will connect Ludhiana in Punjab to Dankuni in West Bengal.

Helping passengers get real-time running information, Railways opened the first phase of Real Train Information System for accurate train tracking. The system is based on Satellite Imaging for Rail Navigation and has been jointly developed by Research Design and Standards Organisation and IIT Kanpur.

One of its achievement during the year was rolling out of AC superfast double-decker train, the first of which was flagged off from Howrah station for Dhanbad in October. More such trains are in the pipeline for Delhi-Jaipur and other sections.

Further, it achieved a breakthrough in the ambitious Kashmir rail link project as execution work of the longest tunnel in the valley was completed in October. The 11-km-long Pir Panjal tunnel is the second longest transport tunnel in Asia.


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