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Scripting a change

Suresh Prabhu had last year embarked on a crusade to revamp Indian Railways on a massive scale, and in the process has been removing whatever obstacles may come in the way, a virtual ‘Vighnaharta’.

Perhaps the first and the largest obstacle removed was the financial constraint which the Railways had been facing over the last two decades, and finding resources other than the annual budgetary support from the central exchequer was paramount.

Persuading LIC to provide a whopping R1.5 lakh crore of credit line was a major breakthrough, which required all of Prabhu’s persuasive skills. Giving the Railways enough time for its projects to start yielding returns, interest payments kick in only from the sixth year while repayment of capital in equal instalments commences from the 11th year, ending in the 30th year.

In order to ensure that all such projects financed by LIC loan are up and running quickly and start filling the Railways’ empty coffers, Prabhu is personally monitoring the progress on an almost weekly basis. As a result, the detailed project report, which used to take months, if not years, for most of the 77 capacity augmentation projects announced by him in the last Rail Budget, are already in.

Simultaneously, joint ventures with Coal India Ltd, which has a stake in the evacuation of coal, and the state governments would ensure speedy environmental and other clearances, remove any local impediments such as land acquisition and also help early execution of projects.

Tender documents are under preparation so that once all clearance comes in, there is no delay in floating them and finalising contracts. Awarding engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) contracts—a first for the Railways—for a complete corridor to a single party would ensure full accountability and timely completion.

Interestingly, quite a few of the new lines meant for evacuation of coal and iron-ore etc pass through backward areas and understandably some states are willing to finance more than the mandatory 50% of the project cost, a win-win situation for both.

Entrusting the projects to the Railways’ own in-house entities—Ircon International, Rail Vikas Nigam, Rail India Techno-Economic Services and Konkan Rail—would hopefully ensure quality and time-bound execution.

However, bringing about a major upgrade of station premises and trains under the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan and giving passengers a better travel environment could prove to be tricky, even though adopting a system like China’s—where the passenger volumes are close to India’s—may help.

Chinese Railway presumes a person visits a railway station primarily to board a train, thus access to the station premises—not just the platform—is restricted only to ticket holders. Food courts, waiting rooms, left luggage lockers, rest rooms and other conveniences are all built away from the platform, and since there are no vendors on the platforms, no garbage is generated and the track also remains clean.

Passengers bide their time in waiting rooms, being permitted to enter the platform only when the train they intend to board arrives and incoming passengers have detrained, giving them not much time to litter the platform or the track. Moreover, the incoming and outgoing streams being separate keeps confusion to a minimum. Enforcing such a radical departure in travel habits and restricted access to platforms will indeed be a Herculean task even for Prabhu.

Removing the vendors from the platform area would undoubtedly result in intervention by many politicians, though a clampdown on renewal of vendor licences and refusal to grant any new ones could perhaps gradually eliminate them over the years.

Prabhu has already made a beginning with an ambitious project estimated to cost R4,500 crore to fit biotoilets on all newly-built coaches, so that the fecal matter does not get dumped on the tracks. As is mentioned in his White Paper 2015, he would also like to separate parcels from passenger business, thereby giving passengers a clutter-free platform.

Parcels all over the world are now carried by dedicated parcel trains, and Prabhu proposes to use the released parcel-cum-luggage vans from passenger trains to form full rakes running between major cities, while additional passenger coaches in place of these vans would enhance capacity on such trains.

However, getting this business—highly lucrative for parcel handling agencies—to shift to parcel depots would need all of Prabhu’s persuasive skills. A beginning may perhaps be made by palletising the parcels on the lines of airlines and use fork lifts to load them, reducing the unseemly clutter on platforms, while setting up a regime for higher volumes whenever the business moves to parcel depots.

In addition, considering the fact that parcel traffic earns less than 5% of what 23 million passenger pay every day, it should be worth his effort to give the much-harried passenger a better deal, who might then perhaps be willing to shell out more.

The author is former member, Railway Board

http://www.financialexpress.com/article/fe-columnist/indian-railways-scripting-a-change/172077/

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Posted by on December 1, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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New facility for live rail updates on mobile phones

Commuters can now get details such as train timetable, PNR status, live status of the train, and trains operating between two railway stations across the country on their smart phones while chatting.

Without hampering chatting, key words can be used to get live information on screen.

Collaboration

For this, RailYatri.in, the multi-modal train travel information provider, has collaborated with WeChat, a social communications app.

Users can access the official account of RailYatri, powered by a crowd-sourced and curated information for train travellers, on WeChat.

“This is the next step in our endeavour to reach out to every train passenger. We needed a platform that will help us resolve travellers’ problems and provide advice in real time. The new partnership will help us connect with a larger audience,” says Manish Rathi, CEO and co-founder, RailYatri.in.

The facility was rolled out on Tuesday and is now available for train commuters.

Seat availability

Mr. Rahti told The Hindu over telephone from Delhi that facility to check the availability of seats would be introduced soon.

For giving information on seat availability on trains, he said the user would have to key in details such as train, class, date of journey and destination. The collaboration would help train passengers get timely information to make better travel decisions.

Reach out to users

It would also help RailYatri reach out to a larger pool of users faster.

The RailYatri and WeChat app can be downloaded from http://www.rytr.in/and http://www.wechat.com.

WeChat is available free to download on Android, BlackBerry, iOS, Symbian and Windows operating system.

The Hindu

 
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Posted by on September 29, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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Train coaches to come alive with wildlife images

The bland and barren coaches of passenger trains may soon have exciting images of tigers, cranes, trees and other wildlife painted on them.

The Indian Railway is actively considering a proposal of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) to paint coaches and stations with the images of wildlife to spread awareness about conservation and promote tourism through pictorial representation.

“We are considering a WWF-India proposal of having pictorial representation of natural habitats and wildlife on certain trains and stations to create awareness about the need for conservation and protection of forest, tiger, birds other species,” said a senior Railway Ministry official.

As per the plan, tiger will be the main theme of the campaign apart from birds such as crane. There will also be trees, bushes, waterbodies to showcase greenery and jungle life.

To begin with, railway stations at Sawai Madhopur and Bharatpur and coaches of Nizamuddin-Kota Jan Shatabdi Express will have paintings of wildlife and forest.

Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu already had a discussion with tiger conservationist Valmik Thapar for taking forward the message of conservation through pictorial representation at Sawai Madhopur and Bharatpur railway stations and on some selected passenger trains.

WWF-India will set up a project design team which will work out details with the railway officials. The project may be later extended to trains linking wildlife sanctuaries.

The design team will visit the two railway stations shortly to get a first hand idea of the sites and potential for pictorial depictions.

The pictorial representation of wildlife and forest will also serve to promote sanctuaries as tourist destinations.

“Paintings on trains and stations will serve dual purpose – nature conservation as well as tourism promotion,” the official said.

Paintings will be done by local artists and WWF-India will provide technical and necessary financial support to the artists and designers involved in the exercise.

Describing the move as “innovative”, railway officials said, “Our endeavour is to carry forward the message of environment conservation through innovative paintings of wildlife such as tiger, bear, birds, crane along with trees, bushes and water bodies on trains and stations.” 

The project can be extended to other stations and trains after the Rajasthan experiment depending upon its successful execution, sources said.

Read more at http://www.thestatesman.com/news/india/train-coaches-to-come-alive-with-wildlife-images/91345.html#gWDdeX0LA7Hoj0bF.99

 
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Posted by on September 20, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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Railways, NID go back to the drawing board to improve efficiency

The Ahmedabad-based National Institute of Design (NID) will work on 50 design changes for the railways, such as improved hand grips in local trains and better berth ladders in sleeper coaches.

“We have the capability to redesign, but our responses are conditioned, so we thought there is no harm in getting fresh inputs,” Hemant Kumar, member (mechanical), Railway Board, told Business Standard.

The design for the ladder was mentioned by Railways Minister Suresh Prabhu when changes were being identified, Kumar said. Ladders in passenger coaches earlier had only two steps but then a third one was added.

“We are studying whether a fourth step can be added. But the challenge is the side upper berth, where you climb in one direction and then turn,” he said. The climbing device could be in conjunction with something else, like a holder.

Ladders, toilets and colour schemes have been identified as areas for redesign. Toilets, for instance, must improve over the existing design and remain clean during a journey.

Research Designs and Standards Organisation (RDSO) designs trains and coaches, which after being approved by the Railway Board goes to  the Rail Coach Factory and Integrated Coach Factory. The initiative with NID is for out-of-the-box ideas.

The memorandum of understanding between the railways and NID last month allows for an offsite facility within the RDSO campus. Design ideas for station architecture, coach interiors, platforms and circulating areas will be exhibited at the Manaknagar station, close to Lucknow, which serves RDSO.

The railways have created a corpus of Rs 10 crore, with the interest on this amount funding some of these designs. Shortlisted ideas will be tested and studied by the respective directorates.

Another important experiment is on how to prevent dustbins from overflowing. “We are trying a compactor. The initial design has been tried in one coach in Central Railway,” said Kumar.

Existing dustbins hold 20 litres. The railways are working on 35-litre bins and then on adding compactors to these. “We are evaluating whether existing dustbins can be retro-fitted. Users must not be injured by the compactor,” Kumar said.

The railways are also trying a new way of powering coaches. Power to coaches is supplied from cars mounted with diesel gensets to meet the requirement for air-conditioning, lighting and fans, called the hotel load. But diesel locomotives are also power houses on wheels. So, two locomotives can be attached on either side of a train and the noisy power cars make way for additional coaches. Since a locomotive has a far more efficient engine than a diesel genset, fuel can be saved. If the hotel load is low at a point, the balance power can be used for traction. More passengers can be carried in less time and the line capacity increases.

Hotel load has been tried in the Ajmer-Rewari train set. “We can start regular service with passenger trains during peak summer. The cost of laying an extra line is Rs 8-9 crore per km. If the throughput increases through this, it is worth it, even if it means more locomotives,” Kumar said.

HOTEL LOAD CONCEPT

From cost efficiency point of view, the Railways is also trying a completely new model of powering coaches. The concept of hotel load has been tried on five trains.

Power to coaches is conventionally supplied from power cars which make a lot of noise. These cars have diesel gensets mounted on them to meet the entire power requirement of air-conditioning, lighting and fan which is called hotel load.

The new idea is based on the concept that diesel locomotives are also power houses on wheels and can generate power. So, two locomotives are attached to either side of the train, and instead of the power cars, two additional coaches are attached to the rake.

Since diesel is used more efficiently by a locomotive because it has a far more efficient engine compared to diesel gensets, the total diesel utilisation would come down. Power acceleration would be doubled. With less fuel, it can generate same power. If hotel load requirement is less at a given point of time, then the balance power can be used for traction. Since more passengers can be carried in less time, the line capacity also increases. Coupler force, too, gets reduced because there is push and pull force working from back and front.
Hotel load has been tried out in the Ajmer-Rewari train set.
“We can start regular service with passenger trains during peak summer. The cost of laying extra line is Rs 8-9 crore per kilometre but if the throughput can increase through this, then it is worth it even if it means more locomotives.”
Business standard
 
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Posted by on May 21, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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Railway minister urges general managers to travel with passengers and sign MoUs for station upgrade

Railway minister Suresh Prabhu during a video-conference with general managers of all 17 zones, urged them to take steps to enhance passenger amenities and seek feedback during the ‘Customer Facilitation Fortnight’ commencing May 26. The GMs have been asked to travel in suburban and passenger trains during that period and interact with passengers to get firsthand feedback. Prabhu has also directed the Railway Board to sign Memorandums of Understanding with Railway PSUs for better passenger amenities at 10 stations.

“These stations are Mumbai CST, Howrah, New Delhi, Guwahati, Patna, Varanasi, Vadodara, Chennai, Agra and Bengaluru. The MoUs should be signed with PSUs such as CONCOR, IRCTC, IRCON, RITES and RVNL, assigning them two stations each for bringing about visible improvement in passenger amenities through their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) schemes. The MoUs will have to clearly indicate what kind of amenities each PSU can provide. The MoUs will have one-year, two-year and five-year targets. In addition to this, the Railway Board may also sign MoUs with select zonal railways, granting them more autonomy with attendant accountability. Railway zones may also sign MoUs with state governments for Special Purpose Vehicles for infrastructure development,” a senior officer in the Railway Board said.

The GMs have also been directed to meet state chief secretaries and other officials to discuss issues such as cleanliness, law and order and safety at level crossings. Meetings between divisional railway managers and passengers’ associations and chambers of commerce should also be held to help in better understanding of problems, the minister has directed. The general managers have also been instructed to involve railway unions to interact with passengers and highlight achievements. Intensive drives will also have to be launched by all zones to check the quality of catering both on trains and at stations, Prabhu has said.

“The other thrust areas are safety awareness drives, monitoring of punctuality and cleanliness and sanitation drives at all stations. The minister has also instructed that the zonal railways start skill development courses for local youth in batches of 100,” the officer added.

TOI

 
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Posted by on May 11, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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Track changes – The case for investing in railways

Think of the opening scene in the first part of Satyajit Ray’s great Apu trilogy. As the object of awe, wonder, and thrill for young Apu, the onrushing train is a majestic metaphor for escape, opportunity and connectivity. That deep, intuitive, and dare we say romantic, case for the railways underlay the prime minister’s speech in Varanasi last year when he spoke of the railways as the backbone of India’s development. But there is also the more prosaically rational case for the railways made in Chapter 6 (Volume I) of this year’s Economic Survey. To understand this case, consider the problem, symptoms, and consequences.

Today, the ‘lifeline of the nation’ operates over 19,000 trains carrying 23 million passengers, and over three million tonnes of freight per day. But these big numbers obscure serious deficiencies, a major one being chronic under-investment. The share of railways in total developmental expenditure has remained at less than 2 per cent since 1990s (whereas the share of roads and bridges has been at around 7 per cent). The contrast with China is striking. Chinese investment in railways, especially over 2005-12, has been about 11 times higher in per-capita terms. As a result, China, which had lower capacity in 1990, overtook India by the mid-1990s and as of 2010, outstripped India by about 25,000-route km.

This problem of under-investment manifests itself in several symptoms. There is serious network congestion with 65 per cent of sections operating at above 100 per cent capacity. With the same network being used by both freight and passenger trains and priority generally accorded to passenger traffic, average freight train speeds have almost stagnated between 2000-01 and 2012-13. Not surprisingly, India lags behind both China and Russia in network productivity (as measured by net tonne per km/network length).

Another symptom of the problem is the ceding of considerable share of freight traffic to roads. The modal share of Indian Railways in freight traffic has declined to around 33 per cent in 2011, and estimated to decline further to 25 per cent by 2020 if the current state of affairs continues. The comparable numbers in China and Russia are significantly greater.

What are some of the consequences? The substitution of railways by roads entails large private costs in the form of worsening competitiveness and significant social costs in terms of more accidents, greater mortality, congestion and environmental pollution, including higher greenhouse gas emissions.

Another consequence, which relates as much to policy choices as under-investment, is the impact on the economy’s competitiveness. The Indian Railways has had to shoulder social responsibilities defined largely by the ability to provide cheap and subsidised passenger services. Over the years, passenger fares have increased negligibly compared to freight rates, resulting in rates that are among the highest globally (in purchasing power parity terms).

The neglect of freight has dented the competitiveness of Indian industry, which is very logistics-intensive. Indian Railways transports only about a third of the amount of coal transported in China per hour, and does so at more than double the cost. It is then not surprising that Indian manufacturing and exports become less competitive.

We know that the consequences of under-investment are substantial because our analysis shows that additional investments generate over-size returns. Based on input-output tables, we estimate in the Economic Survey 2014-15 (Vol I, Chapter 6) that the large backward and forward linkages related to the railways generate a railways investment multiplier of about five. Similarly, other econometric evidence suggests that public investment in the railways, would positively and durably affect levels of manufacturing and aggregate output, with multipliers of around five: that is, Rs 1-increase in railways investment is expected to boost economy-wide manufacturing output by Rs 5 over the medium term.

While under-investment is a major problem, there are perhaps even deeper influences such as organisational structure, legacy factors and incentives that need to be addressed, which have been discussed in several recent reports on the railways, including that of the National Transport Development Policy Committee (NTDPC 2014). A good start towards turning around the railways was begun in the recent Budget under new and dynamic leadership. There is a long road – or rather track – to travel but an auspicious beginning has been made.

One of the lesser known facts about Chinese history is the importance of railways to Deng Xiaoping’s attempt to turning the economy around and ushering in the Chinese miracle. After his third and final rehabilitation, he implemented famously the reform of Chinese agriculture. But after his second rehabilitation, he focused on improving the performance of the Chinese railways. Should India and the government do for the Indian Railways what Deng did for China’s railways? Should the government do for Indian Railways what the previous National Democratic Alliance government did for roads via the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana and the National Highways Development Project (NHDP)? Our analysis suggests that the answers to both the questions are resoundingly yes.


Rangeet Ghosh, Aakanksha Arora, Sutirtha Roy & Arvind Subramanian.

Ghosh is OSD to the chief economic advisor, Arora is assistant director in the Ministry of Finance,Roy is a Fulbright Scholar at the Johns Hopkins University, and Subramanian is chief economic advisor in the Ministry of Finance

 
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Posted by on April 24, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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Restructure & privatise — or perish

“Give the dog a bad name and hang it” seems to have been the objective of the Debroy committee which in its 323-page  report has already assumed that “the  main shortcoming of the traditional structure and management style of IR (Indian Railways)  has been the lack of incentives to align the interest of IR and its management with the interests of users”.Then it has simply gone ahead documenting the wonderful stories of restructuring around the world on railways   such as in the UK, Germany, Sweden and Australia which are nowhere in the same league in carrying the Indian Railway’s levels of  passenger or freight!

US Railroads do carry a substantially higher freight than IR, but then its passenger  arm viz. ‘Amtrak’, a government-owned entity, is  only a bit player carrying annually what the Indian Railway carries in a single day. Curiously the Chinese Railways, which perhaps is closest to the Indian scenario, does not find any mention in its report. It has also simply ignored or just not bothered to go into the causes of the Railways’  decline over the last  two decades viz. rampant populism, political  interference in its functioning and  blatant  indulgence in financial profligacy  by its political masters!

Nearly 3,000 new passenger  trains introduced over  the last two and a half decades consumed  the limited resources of track capacity slowing down speeds, in particular  of the freight  trains which has now dropped to a dismal 25 kmph. The populist policies of successive Rail Ministers, refusing to hike passenger tariff at least in line with inflation, have resulted in freight tariff being raised every year to subsidise the loss-making passenger  business!“Lack of dynamism” or  the fact that “being a monopoly excludes or limits the possibility of providing innovative forms of lower cost rail transport” has had nothing to do with the reasons for the Indian Railways increasingly losing market share to the road. It was plain and simple market forces which saw the freight tariff as too high, with often mid-year unpredictable increases — to balance the Railways budget — upsetting  their own business  plans.

The charge that the Railways has had a “monopolistic, take it or leave it  attitude  and that it has failed to meet the transport demands of both poorer groups and richer groups willing to pay for more comfort” is also unfounded. Sensing the growing demand for overnight trains  connecting Delhi to Mumbai and Kolkata, Rajdhani Express with limited stoppages had been introduced as early as 1969, a service which now connects Delhi to most of  the state capitals. This was followed by inter-city Shatabdi Express trains in the 1980s, which met the needs of  business and other well-heeled clients who often prefer them to flying. In addition a string of low-cost budget superfast express trains viz.  Garib Rath,  Sampark Kranti, etc. cater to the needs of poorer sections.

With the advent of globalisation CONCOR (Container Corporation of  India) entered the multi-modal logistics business in 1966, soon  growing into a giant carrying over 3 million TEUs every year, served from a string of 73 terminals and in the process capturing 75 % of the EXIM   traffic to Mumbai port.     The committee’s observation that “the main shortcoming of the traditional structure and management style of IR has been the lack of incentives to align the interest of IR and its management with the interests of users” does not seem to be based on past history or present-day facts. In its wisdom the committee also felt that there is a lack of incentive  for the Railways to improve and concluded that a strong dose of  competition, as has been proven around the world through private participation in the supply of railway infrastructure and train services, is the way forward.

While competition is most welcome in whatever areas which private sector may choose to venture into, the proposal to dismantle the whole railway organization, which has functioned superbly with its   seamless capability in, command and control,  communication and coordination between its various arms etc., defies logic. It is akin to cutting up a body and then asking its arms, legs, torso, vital organs  etc to communicate with the brain, which is what the Railways would become with the proposed  separation of infrastructure, operations, marketing, maintenance,  manufacturing, and last  but not the least, its staff welfare infrastructure, viz. hospitals, schools etc. which are essential for generating worker satisfaction and loyalty to the institution. A clear division of responsibility between the Government of India and railway organisations is also suggested with the ministry being responsible for policy and parliamentary accountability, which may not necessarily eliminate  political interference in its day-to-day working which has been its ‘nemesis’.

An independent ‘umpire’ is proposed to ensure that when the private sector comes in, there is a fair and open access to infrastructure, which would involve shifting regulatory responsibility from the government to an independent regulator.While allowing private entry into running both freight and passenger trains in competition with IR is welcome, given the  present status of overcrowded tracks, it is doubtful if their multi-crore train sets replete with state-of-art technology will be able to zip across the countryside at over 200 kmph or their  freight specials given precedence over a Rajdhani!Private participation in various railway infrastructure services and non-core activities like production and construction, whether as FDI (Foreign Direct Investment ) or in the PPP (Public Private Partnership ) mode  would be welcome as long as the areas  of responsibility in execution, financing, and jurisdiction are clearly defined, and the private  initiative will bring down the unit cost for transporting passengers and freight, which undoubtedly should be the ultimate objective of the whole exercise!

R..C. Acharya

The writer is a former Member, Railway Board.

 

 
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Posted by on April 17, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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