Friday, February 24, 2017

The task is challenging, given the heavy traffic on tracks. The Indian Railways has a track length of around 115,000km

Railways also decided to provide required corridor block/slot by rescheduling of trains for the inspection. Photo: Priyanka Parashar/Mint

New Delhi: Indian Railways has decided to set aside at least three hours daily to detect defects on stretches of tracks and rectify them after a spate of accidents in the recent past.

The task is challenging, given the heavy traffic on tracks. The national carrier has a track length of around 115,000km.

Of this, the route length—the length of track not including the ones at yards and railway stations—accounts for 67,312km.

The railways on 28 December issued an order to tweak timetables and divert trains in a corridor to inspect tracks. The order was issued about a fortnight after the parliamentary standing committee on railways submitted its report on safety and security.

“A railway route is divided into different blocks and inspection would be done block-wise on a rotational basis,” said a railway ministry official, requesting anonymity.

Of the 1,219 sections that tracks are divided into, 492 are running at 100% capacity or above.

“It has also been decided that wherever margins between the trains are not adequate, the required corridor block/slot shall be provided by necessary rescheduling of trains and a minimum of three-hour maintenance block shall be ensured even by regulating mail/express trains or short terminating passenger trains, in each section where asset maintenance works are scheduled,” a railway spokesperson said.

Railway tracks are inspected daily on foot by so-called keymen. In addition, push and motor trollies inspect once a month, with the assistant divisional engineer reviewing it once in two or three months depending on the route’s importance. The national carrier has 3,649 keymen. As of 1 April 2016, 2,434 such positions have been vacant of total 6,083 positions.

“The timely maintenance of assets is essential for ensuring their reliability and safety. In the current maintenance regime, regular traffic blocks of adequate duration are absolutely necessary to enable stipulated maintenance and renewal works,” said the order reviewed by Mint.

This will also lead to reduced movement of trains and strain the railways’ finances even as the national carrier is facing stiff competition from airlines and road transport for people and freight.

Indian Railways is the world’s largest railway network under a single management and runs around 20,849 trains daily and transports 23 million passengers.

“The standard operating procedure would provide some reprieve to the congested and over-used track systems besides helping to introduce integrated maintenance where all departments like electrical, mechanical, etc would undertake the work at the same time,” said another railway ministry official on conditions of anonymity.

Experts welcomed the move.

“Safety is paramount. Now, if the window has been increased to three-four hours to ensure that there is no derailment, then it is definitely a good decision. However, it will definitely come in the way in terms of financial earnings of railways and I hope railways had done a cost analysis for this move,” according to former railway board chairman Vivek Sahai.

In the nine months to December, railways posted a disappointing performance by running up a record-high operating ratio of 109%, meaning it spent Rs109 to generate Rs100, Mint reported.


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