Thursday, July 3, 2014

Why Are Indian Railways Trains So Slow?


The Indian Railways is totally awesome when it comes to scale, coordination, operations and locomotives, no two doubts about that. But when it comes to speed (especially), quality of service, aesthetics and looks, our railways are still stuck in the 19th century with clunky metal rattletraps of coaches and stinking toilets. But the Achilles Heel of our trains remains speed. Average speeds of our trains are around 54 kph on an average save for some elite trains on selected stretches. Our people spend days traveling epic distances on “express” trains that average speeds of 45 kph and 37 kph. We are a long, long way away from global standards when a train with average speeds of 55 kph is considered “Superfast” and 70 kph is “premium!” But why are Indian trains so slow? Why is it that despite having the fourth largest railway system in the world (third largest in terms of passenger services) our trains still take forever to complete their journeys and still creak, groan and rattle and clatter to their destinations? Indian trains are not really “slow” if you take actual physical running speeds. We have locomotives capable of hitting 160 kph and currently allowed top speeds of Indian Railways trains are 110-120 kph for most (old style) ICF coached trains and 130-140 kph for AC LHB trains on most important trunk lines which actually quite good for everyday non-bullet train setups. It is the average speeds of our trains which are low, even for trains that run at high top speeds. For example, the Purushottam Express is allowed a top speed of 130 kph but has an average speed of only 60 kph. In their timetables, our trains are given way too much time to cover their distances and when calculated by distance/time taken their overall average speeds end up low. But if you take top speeds alone our trains are doing quite well. In fact, it will come quite as a shock to many when I say that speeds of Indian trains compare favorably with those of the best in the world in its class, like those in Japan.

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