Signal for Railways: Modernise or Perish

Sam Pitroda,adviser to the Prime Minister,and Anil Kakodkar,former chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission,have offered sage advise to modernise the Railways and make travel safe for 23 million commuters everyday.The recommendations of two independent panels chaired by them,if implemented,can save Indian Railways from going the Air India way.Pitrodas team is spot on when it says that Railways could become a burden on the national economy if it is not operationally and financially sound.It has to spend around.5.6 lakh crore over the next five years to modernise and gain financial strength.Thats not small change,but feasible if money can be raised through innovative ways.Tucked away in the report is a suggestion to impose a modernisation surcharge on passenger fares.

Kakodkars group on safety too has voiced concern over the deteriorating financial health of the vital infrastructure and recommended a safety cess on passenger fares.Perhaps a composite surcharge makes sense,considering that safety and modernisation are really two sides of the same coin.However,Railways must ensure that the money is not frittered away on populist measures like new lines.Unlike other expert groups in the past,Pitrodas panel has not said why railway finances are in a mess.Nor has it recommended an increase in passenger fares that have remained unchanged for over eight years now.Instead,the focus is on prescriptions: the Railways should modernise rapidly,invest more in safety,raise productivity,leverage advanced technology and revamp its organisational structure to make a meaningful contribution to the economy.Some of these recommendations also featured in the panel chaired by Rakesh Mohan over a decade ago,but remained on paper as there was no political will to implement reforms.

The Pitroda panel candidly admits that the task is complex and requires political will,organisational and management support,substantial funding,new direction,new thinking,mobilisation of resources,innovative public-private partnership (PPP) and new business models,and a lot more.Reforms are needed on many fronts to bring finances to a better shape and make the Railways play its role in globalising the countrys transport infrastructure.The goals modernising core revenue-generating assets such as rolling stock,signalling,tracks and bridges and also exploring new revenue models including use of land and airspace,dedicated freight corridors and high-speed trains make sense.So is the plan to upgrade nearly 40% of the tracks that carry 80% of traffic.It would help the Railways haul heavier freight trains and raise speed of passenger trains,improving overall efficiency,safety and quality of service.Investment depends on railway finances.

The Pitroda panel is betting big on PPPs and use of land and commercial space.But given the poor track record in PPPs,a review of the policy framework is in order.Similarly,not much headway has been made in leveraging land and airspace.Here,the panels suggestions that include mapping railway land,ensuring land rights of the Railways and enlisting support from state governments are worth pursuing.Commercial space should be leased out to private developers in a big way.Railway minister and Trinamool Congress member Dinesh Trivedi should start implementing the groups recommendations from this years rail budget.One,he should announce missions in over a dozen focus areas,with clear goals,measurable milestones and defined timetables.Two,the Railways must end the practice of freight and upper-class passengers subsidising lower-class fares.So,lower-class fares must be raised.Three,the railways should break new ground in freight and also spend more money to buy rolling stock,invest in electrification,track renewals and electronic signalling for high-speed operations.Four,it should make the accounting system more transparent.This will end the scope for window-dressing of accounts to show a better balance-sheet.Five,the Railways should also announce reorganisation of the Board to ensure that its chairman functions like a CEO of a commercial enterprise.Six,the Railways can also announce a plan to reorganise itself into separate companies: one can own and operate rolling stock and another can own,say,tracks.Competition among them will improve profits and,perhaps,obviate the need for a rail tariff regulatory authority.Finally,the Centre must offer generous budget support for the Railways to invest in modernisation and safety.There can be no compromise on safety.However,Mr Trivedi needs to convince his boss and Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee to ensure that Pitrodas recommendations are not dumped.Reforms in railways brook no delay.

Published in: on March 3, 2012 at 8:44 am  Leave a Comment  
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Rlys to offer short-term contracts for advertisement on trains

With few takers for long-time advertisement deals on suburban trains, both Western and Central railways have decided to offer short-term advertisement contracts. The new Siemens rakes offer less space on its exterior compared to old rakes and the railways are facing a dip in advertisement revenue.

Both the railways have chosen to ignore the Mumbai Railway Vikas Corporation (MRVC) objection to defacing the new Siemens rakes. The Western Railway, which is not plying any old rake in its suburban section after the completion of the DC-AC conversion, has decided to give its 10 Siemens rakes of its 78-rake fleet on advertisement contracts for vinyl wrapping on their exterior. The Central Railway, which has 44 Siemens rakes, has given a rake on a trial basis for advertisement. It also plans to give the rest of the rakes for advertisement on a first-come-first-serve basis.

“Similar to TV and newspaper advertisements, those on trains also target potential consumers to recall the product. Compared to other mediums, the span of exposure to the target audience is less as trains are in motion. Railway will have to change the rates, which are high at present, particularly in the sluggish market conditions,’’ a senior Central Railway official said.

“As far as the MRVC objection is concerned, we are here to increase the earnings of railway and we are going in that direction. The duty of the MRVC to provide us Siemens rakes, which they did and are doing. Now, we have to think what to do.’’

The Western Railway has earned Rs 9,65,656 lakh in short-term contracts for eight Siemen’s rakes between December 2011 and February 2012.

The licence fee for 2,910-sq ft area — the space available for advertisement — is Rs 1,0,7694 for a month, Rs 1, 93,849 for two months, Rs 2,69,233 for three months and Rs 3,44,618 for four months.

The CR official said: “Now, 69 old rakes have been given for exterior window panels for short term from February 9, 2012 to March 8, 2012 at Rs 8 lakh. One Siemens rake has also been given on a trial basis at Rs 458 a panel per month.”

Indian Railways to develop three rail corridors in Chattisgarh

Indian Railways has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the government of Chattisgarh for the development of three rail corridors for both freight and passenger purpose in the state.

The rail corridors would be developed in northern region of Chhatisgarh state, approximately 452 kilometres in total length.

These corridors are on the 180 kilometres on Eastern Corridor which will connect mines, a 150 km long corridor in the northern region and a 122 km long East-West Corridor.

Published in: on March 3, 2012 at 8:34 am  Leave a Comment  

Meet the iron lady who is only female machinist in Indian Railways

“Train wheels get worn out while running and need repairing every 18 months,” says Shivani Shivraj Kumar (41), as she repairs the wheel of a local train at Matunga Railway Workshop. Shivani is the only female machinist in the entirety of the Indian railways. A semi-educated Marathi Christian Mulagi, who became a widow at the age of 19, Shivani has broken all societal barriers in life’s second innings. Shivani joined the Central Railway as a sweeper after her husband’s demise.

“The railways gave me the sweeper’s job on compensatory ground after my first husband’s death. I was just 20, and a mother of a two-year-old son and a nine-month-old daughter. With little education, I couldn’t expect much,” said a teary-eyed Shivani. Within a year she was promoted to the khalasi (or peon) post, thanks to her hard work.

“My work was to break coal which was mainly done by men,” said Shivani who worked as a peon for the next 12 years. She earned a lot of respect from others in the department, including one man, Shivraj Kumar. He proposed marriage, which she accepted after much persuasion. “It was a very bold step then,” remembers Shivani. “I was a Christian and he a Hindu. Now I think, had Shivraj not been there with me, I don’t know if I could have brought up my kids in the same way.” Her daughter is doing her Masters in Computer Applications, and her son is employed as a teacher.

She was offered the machinist post in the ‘wheel shop’ 10 years ago. The offer surprised everyone as till then only men were handling this job. “I was not ready as the work was technical and tougher. But my hubby encouraged me, saying, Shivani, believe in yourself, you can do anything in the world. Then I thought if I will deny the job, no other woman will ever come forward to prove herself,” Shivani reveals proudly.

Ecstatic to participate in the Stayfree DNA I Can Half Marathon along with her daughter, Shivani says, “Women are not weaker than men. We eat so much, so what is the problem? Women are here to go ahead of men.”

Railways to double up production of new age LHB coaches

Railways have decided to double the production of new age LHB coaches keeping in mind their enhanced safety features, which have come in for praise from a high-level safety panel.

The production will be scaled up from about 400 Linke Holfmann Bush (LHB) coaches to 800 coaches, utilising them for running not only for Rajdhani, Shatabdi and Duronto trains but also for running mail and express trains.

Published in: on March 3, 2012 at 8:26 am  Leave a Comment  

Fairy Queen to make a comeback

Fairy Queen, the world’s oldest running steam engine that was vandalised and looted at a railway shed and rendered useless last year, is on its way to recovery and may hit the tracks in October.
Built in Leeds, UK, in 1854, Fairy Queen made its first commercial run on August 15, 1855, from Howrah in West Bengal.

The brass spare parts, almost irreplaceable, of the 156-year-old engine were stolen while it was parked at a railway shed last year. “The rare parts are being made at Perambur loco workshop in Chennai. We are hopeful of getting the engine back in October, after which it will be rolled out for tourists again,” said Ashwani Lohani, DRM (Delhi), Northern Railways.

The engine, which was brought back to life in 1997 on the mainline after being in the wilderness for almost 88 years, was given the status of national treasure by the government.

Fairy Queen, which retired in 1908, was resurrected by Lohani, also founder of the Indian Steam Railway Society. The heritage engine, which used to run between Delhi and Alwar, has also made it to the Guinness World Record.

After it was looted in 2011, the steam loco was parked at the National Rail Museum in New Delhi before it was sent to Chennai for repair last month.

“Almost everything, including its rhythmic whistle, was stolen. There were slight chances that it could be revived, but we have been told by the workshop that they have made a breakthrough by making its spare parts,” said a Railways officer, requesting not to be named.

The Railways hope that in October the spotlight will be back on the engine. “Steam enthusiasts across the world are waiting to see it again. This time, we will keep it at the Rewari steam loco shed. Its revival and preservation plan will be presented before the international steam loco experts in the upcoming national steam congress,” said Lohani.

Published in: on March 3, 2012 at 8:19 am  Leave a Comment  
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