Sunday, March 4, 2012

Indian Railway, Part II – Where we are going?

Indian Railway, Part I – A Race to Bottom

Indian Railway, Part II – Where we are going?

Indian Railway, Part III –  Accidents
Indian Railway, Part IV - Will the Pheonix rise again?

Railways always played a vital role in society. The hero of Indian transportation sector, around 2% of Indian population use it every day. In other words, every 50 days passengers equal to the entire nation’s population are transported by Indian Railways (IR). Let us see how safe the IR is?

High Level Safety Review Committee (HLSRC) Report

Safety is one of the critical components in transportation segment, especially in India where unacceptably high number of people are dying on the roads and rails. According to the reports, 1600 railway staff was killed and an additional 8700 were injured while working during the period 2007-08 to Oct, 2011. Another 1019 suffered death and 2118 suffered injuries in train accidents for the same period. In 2010-11 alone there were 844 causalities which claimed 381 precious lives.

HLSRC was formed to review safety of Railway system and recommend measures for improvements. In the face of deteriorating infrastructure, recent accidents, peril financial condition this report shed some lights on the situation IR is currently in. According to the committee report "Present environment on Indian Railways reveals a grim picture of inadequate performance largely due to poor infrastructure and resources and lack of empowerment at the functional level. Present form of railway organization is more centralized, top-heavy and hierarchical along departmental lines much to the detriment of a functional and objective oriented organization."

Passenger fares and Capital investments

Whole sale price increase Vs Railway fare
Last time when I went to home, it was a real surprise for me – there was not hike in bus charge!!! People were used to the frequent hikes in bus rates in an interval months. In fact, in Kerala each time central government raises the fuel rate we will expect a bus strike. Basically, ever increasing charges are one of the characteristic of consumer goods in the recent time. But railways are totally different, close to one decade IR didn’t increase the ticket rate. Sixth pay commission came, operating expenditure increased but railways didn’t change its stand. Good for the people? Not exactly, the freight rate remained high moreover the loss making passenger division pulled down the margin of IR. Populist measures by railway ministers didn’t help the situation either.

This not only reduced the margin of IR but also affected the capital investments in infrastructure. But this inadequate infrastructure didn’t stop the ministry to carry out the popular scheme of introducing the new trains in every budget.

Committee "strongly recommended stopping such practice of introduction of new trains without commensurate inputs to the infrastructure”. According to the reports, while Wholesale Price Index (WPI) rose by about 300 % in last 10 years, passenger fares for 2nd class travel on Indian Railways more or less remained the same" Pic A

The longest toilets in the world

Railway toilets are an embarrassment for the entire nation. Even now you can see the notice pasted to toilet doors “Don’t use the toilet close to the stations”. Just think, in 50 days railways carries an equivalent number of Indian population; if we are using the open toilets in trains what will be the situation of tracks and people living close to it?

"Barring the Shatabdi and Rajadhani Express trains which constitutes very small percentage passengers carried per day, the rest of the passengers who travel everyday defecate in toilets in the train, which falls on the rail track. Apart from the issue of hygiene, this has several serious safety implications arising out of corrosion of rails and related hardware as well as poor maintenance of under carriage equipment due inhuman unhygienic conditions." We really need to study what western countries are doing with this problem and adapt best practices across the world or came up with our own solution. Whatever it may be status quo should be changed.


For reading next part - Indian Railway, Part III – Accidents

Picture Courtesy: Ministry of Railways, Government of India

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