Time, comfort for all vital

Modernising Railway

By Dhurjati Mukherjee

In one of its recent decisions, the Railways will soon bring an engineless high speed train (Train-18) from Howrah to New Delhi. The train, the first of its kind, has been manufactured by Integrated Coach Factory (ICF), Chennai and capable of running at 160 km per hour. The 1440 km journey between the two stations would be approximately 12 hours and reduce the present journey period of Rajdhani Express by around five hours. Before it actually starts operation, the Research Designs & Standards Organization (RDSO) will monitor the tests.
At the same time, it has also been reported recently that the Chittaranjan Locomotive Works (CLW) has launched the first locomotive in the country’s history, capable of hauling trains at a speed of 200 km per hour. In fact such electric locomotive had been manufacturing 5100HP WAP-5 locomotives for passenger trains for long. The WAP-5 has redesigned and it is now aerodynamic to reduce air drag at higher speeds, thereby making them more energy efficient. The gear arrangement has also been modified to maintain a maximum speed of 200 km/hour.
Locomotive-hauled trains like the Rajdhani and Shatabdi run on an average speed of 90 kmph due to several speed restrictions. With the introduction of these locomotives, the reduction in journey time would be possible if the permissible limit is proposed to be raised to 160 kmph or even more. The introduction of new trains is expected to cut down the travel time by at least 20 per cent in comparison to any train drawn by a loco due to faster acceleration and deceleration.
This has indeed been a landmark achievement of Railways as Indian trains are normally very slow. Thus in special routes, such trains have to be fast enough and manufactured with indigenous technology. Rajesh Agarwal, member (rolling stock), also announced the next series of train called Train-20 and will be capable of achieving 200 km per hour. At such a juncture, there is need for connecting all the metro cities with either the Train-18 or Train-20 within the shortest possible time, say within two years or so.
There was, in fact, no justification in spending valuable foreign exchange for survey and then importing bullet train which will run between Ahmedabad and Mumbai. It is not known what justification was advanced for such trains when congested routes like Howrah-Delhi, Mumbai-Howrah, Bangalore-Howrah and Delhi-Mumbai need faster trains. But instead of focussing on this aspect, there was lot of talk of bullet train.
Obviously, political pressure from foreign countries must have pressurised the government to go for importing bullet trains. If one is a frequent traveller by train, it would be easily discernible that the poor and the lower income groups comprise around 65 to 70 per cent of the passengers. In such a situation, the resources have to be judiciously used to improve functioning of trains and improving the safety network on a priority. The Railways unfortunately has not been able to contain the accidents and improve on its poor record. Added to this, adequate flyovers would have to be built to tackle recent incidents of stampede and resultant deaths.
With most airlines offering low cost fares and good connectivity, a large number of the people have started using this mode of transportation in recent years, and therefore the justification of a bullet train, more so with fares being inordinately high, stands no logic. Moreover, the selection of Ahmedabad city for starters appears to have been influenced by the Prime Minister to give Gujarat another feather in its cap.
Apart from the speed, these new trains would have an aerodynamic nose for reduced drag and improved aesthetics. These will also have continuous window glasses, ‘automatic plug-type’ sliding doors and sliding footsteps which will open and close automatically at the stations and zero discharge vacuum-based bio-toilets.
However, the technical upgradation of Railways is an imperative necessity and so also improvement of the stations, which should be the Railway Board’s priority too. It must take into account that it is of utmost importance to reduce the travel time, specially between capital cities, and at the same time provide minimum comfort to passengers who travel in sleeper classes and also those unreserved. Though finances are a problem, the entire policy of the railways needs to be geared towards providing comfort and safety to the aam janata.
Finances may have to be geared up by public-private participation in modernising railway stations, bringing an end to ticketless travel as also fining those who enter stations without platform tickets etc. If sincere efforts are initiated by railway authorities, it could improve its financial situation and offer the much-needed facilities to all. This apart, there is need to check on corruption within the sector and vigilance officers must ensure that there is no more laxity.
Simultaneously, the government’s plan of public-private participation in modernising railway stations and commercial use of railways – some of which may be occupied – would also help in gearing up finances of the railways. But it appears that very little has been done in this direction as the railways have not yet come up with any innovative plan.
It cannot be doubted that the Railways has to be a thoroughly professional organisation unlike most government organisations, given the mammoth operations it carries out. This professionalism and a work culture have been missing and attitudes need to change. Whether in enforcing rules or in matters of technical upgradation or in completion of projects in time, this approach may go a long way in raising revenues and help in curbing the deficit in passenger tariff. In fact, accountability has to be fixed for those at the top and middle officers than in the lower cadres.
Undeniably, it’s indeed distressing to note that all policy decisions and refurbishment by subsequent governments have been largely geared for the well-off sections. The interest of the aam janata must be given topmost priority and the officers will do well if they take a ride in the sleeper class and get a feel of what they are offering. It may also be prudent to say that the functioning and finances of the railways in other Third world countries would be better though the number of passengers travelling in our country is far more.
Primarily, the comfort of all sections has to improve for which the Railways should frame an action plan. Obviously, a major segment of the resources have to be geared in that direction so that people travelling in non-AC coaches can have a relatively comfortable journey. This is not to say that technological improvements should be made to wait but both must go hand-in-hand. —INFA