A behemoth like Indian Railways cannot be overhauled overnight; it takes time. Incremental but consistent changes across the board are the need of the hour
Neither was Rome built in a day nor will Indian Railways reach the standards of rail technology (in terms of speed, safety and passenger comfort) in Japan, China, the US or Europe, within a fortnight. The behemoth, which has over 1.4 million employees, is like a giant oil tanker that takes a while to make a course correction. Therefore, big bang reforms in Indian Railways is neither possible nor desirable.
Instead, following the principles of kaizen, the Japanese mantra of bringing incremental changes, Minister for Railways Suresh Prabhu has embarked on a well-thought growth path, with both short- and long-term inputs, to bring a significant turnaround in the functioning of railways, the nation’s economic lifeline.
Prabhu has adopted a strategy to improve five core areas: Customer experience, new sources of revenue, cost optimisation, investment in infrastructure, and structural reforms. He has first picked the low-hanging fruits while putting in motion long-term inputs that are critical to achieve a quantum jump in output.
Recently, a string of initiatives, mostly IT-based, which don’t cost much but yield substantial results, were taken by Prabhu. These initiatives are vital from the public perception point of view. Starting with ease of booking and cancelling tickets, these measures have resulted in making train travel a much less stressful exercise.
The upgradation of the passenger reservation system servers last year at five nodal points — Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai, Chennai and Secunderabad — has enabled a whopping one lakh transaction to be made simultaneously on the Indian Railways Catering and Tourism Corporation website, which now records a mind-boggling 330 million hits a day.
A host of new mobile apps has also made online booking a breeze. As a result, over 60 per cent of rail tickets are now booked online. This has eliminated the hassle of queuing up at a ticket counter. Online booking has also make it easier for international passengers to book their tickets from abroad.
Any information that a passenger may need, including the avaibility of train services between any pair of stations, train schedules, availability of seats or berths, fare enquiries, booking and current status of trains, is all available at the click of a mouse.
In keeping with the aspirations of the upwardly mobile generation of tech-savvy youngsters, an SMS is automatically sent to the passenger’s mobile informing him or her of any updates to the train schedule or status of the booking. Also, over 400 stations will now be provided with Wifi by end of this year.
Moreover, some 36 mechanised laundries, with capacities ranging from one tonne at Wadi Bunder in Mumbai (which can churn out 25,000 bed sheets a day), to eight tonnes at Ahmedabad, ensure that fresh bed linen is provided to passengers everyday on long distance trains. Though a beginning had been made in 2009, at Wadi Bunder, the induction of more mechanised laundries picked up speed only in the last couple of years at all major coach-maintenance depots.
Not a part of passenger experience but still very much impacting train travel, was the demand for the provision of a toilet for the loco pilot; the loco pilot has the difficult task of safely running a super-fast passenger train at a speed of 130km per hour. Loco pilots often make non-stop runs for as long as five hours on some superfast trains. A toilet in the drivers cab, therefore, was a basic necessity and been a long standing demand. When Prabhu inaugurated the first locomotive with a vacuum toilet in the pilot’s driving cab in Delhi, he took a small kaizen step towards improving the railway’s overall performance.