Railways country’s largest landowner: Survey

The Indian Railway has emerged as the single largest landowner in the country, according to a survey.
A recent comprehensive survey by an international property consultancy firm, Jones Lang LaSalle India, reveals that Indian Railway is the single-largest owner of lands in this country which has approximately 1,06,254 acres of vacant land under its purview.

More importantly, large chunks of the railway land are lying futile especially in urban and suburban areas where there is a shortage of housing, says the study.

According to the study, defence services have approximately 17,00,000 acres of land in its ownership, but it has several departments that control this land. The survey found that the Airports Authority of India owns around 49,420 acres of land. The country’s various port authorities hold a substantial chunk of approximately 2,58,000 acres, out of which approximately 20 per cent is not usable. Santhosh Kumar, CEO — operations, JLL said, “If the Rail Land Development Authority (RLDA) has the objectives to maximise revenues from its assets, then the process followed by the National Textile Corporation for their defunct mill lands would probably be a better route for RLDA.” However, property market expert Sandip Sadh feels otherwise. “It is not the time for railways to press the panic button and go for bidding or commercial exploitation of its land. Let there be a national-level policy for development for such reserved land so that affordability can be considered,” he opined.

When contacted, A.K. Gupta, member of real estate and urban planning division of RLDA said that the process of inviting tenders has already begun. He said, “We are hopeful of embarking upon this process in a phased manner.”


Season ticket not for reserved coaches: court

The Kerala High Court has upheld Railways’ stipulation that first-class season tickets will be issued only on routes through which first-class unreserved coaches run.

Justice T.R. Ramachandran Nair gave the ruling while dismissing a petition filed by the Railway First Class Season Ticket Passengers’ Association, Kozhikode, and three others.

The judge observed that the prescription by Railways was not at all arbitrary, illegal or ultra vires . “The persons who have reserved tickets will have to be protected and their problems also will have to be addressed by Railways,” the court said.

Railways said seats or berths were not reserved for first- and second-class season tickets.

The passengers with the season tickets were not entitled to travel in reserved coaches. Under the Indian Railway Commercial Manual, Railways were bound to see that passengers who had reserved their berths/seats were properly accommodated.


Vending machines for rail tickets

Serpentine queues in front of railway ticket counters could scare passengers who are in dire need to travel in a train, ready to depart within a short time. Jumping the queue, despite being an undesirable trait, may not be successful or could even lead to skirmishes.

Automatic ticket vending machines installed by the Southern Railway at five stations in Kerala including Ernakulam Junction and Aluva are a boon to such passengers. The machines started operation on Monday. All the stations were to be commissioned simultaneously, but there was a hiccup at Aluva with the machine unable to print the tickets. The problem was rectified within an hour and the machine had been functioning without any hitich since then, L.Ashok Kumar, Area Manager, Southern Railway, told The Hindu. The ticket vending machines were installed at Thiruvananthapuram, Thrissur and Kottayam, apart from Ernakulam and Aluva.


Railways to open three more executive lounges at city stations

The Railways will open executive lounges on the lines of those seen at airports at three railway stations in the Capital -Old Delhi, Hazrat Nizamuddin and Anand Vihar.

The Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) opened one such lounge at the New Delhi railway station earlier this month.

Rakesh Tandon, IRCTC’s managing director, said, “Many more lounges, including three in Delhi, have been committed in the rail budget speech. I’m hopeful of a permission from the higher authorities this month itself. Work is likely to start in the next financial year.”

Anurag Sachan, divisional railway manager (Delhi) of Northern Railway, said, “Yes, that’s the idea. After New Delhi station, we will set up the facility at other three important stations in the Capital. We will work out the modalities with IRCTC for an early start.”

Tandon said footfall, demands from passengers and requisite space were the criteria of selection. “When passengers are ready to pay, we must provide such airport-like facilities,” he said.

The New Delhi station lounge offers buffet meals, soft beverages, snacks, a business centre, TV sets, newspapers, magazines, separate dining areas for groups and families and recliners. The Railways is issuing a Rs. 300 smart card to each passenger for three hours. If a passenger wants to stay there for more than three hours, he will have to spend an additional Rs. 125 per hour. If somebody wants to wash and change, he will be given a kit at an additional charge of Rs. 175.

“The lounge at New Delhi station costs us R5 crore. We’re getting a good response – as many as 110 persons a day. These lounges can be used by anyone with a rail or even a passenger ticket. Those coming to the station to see off passengers can also avail the facilities,” Tandon said.


Published in: on December 29, 2012 at 6:40 am  Leave a Comment  
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Soon you may have more choice, better food on trains

Unhappy with the food served on trains, Railway Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal has decided to bring in new caterers and award contracts with fresh terms and conditions in the next three months.

To break the present cartel of a handful of catering vendors who have been controlling food supply to over 302 long-distance trains for decades, the new contract conditions will limit the number of trains one catering company can serve. The new standard bidding documents will include an enhanced licence fee and revised tariff.

As a result, the food on Rajdhanis, Shatabdis and Durontos may see a drastic change next year.

In a letter to all 17 zonal railways this week, Bansal directed the general managers to conduct ‘Passenger Opinion Surveys’ and “personally monitor” the award of contracts.

“Immediate action must be initiated so as to ensure supply of good quality and hygienic food,” Bansal wrote. “I expect that you shall personally monitor the award of contracts and setting up of mechanised and modern base kitchens… including service through trolleys.”

The Railway Minister also directed a new menu, with more variety, for food served at stations by catering vendors, known in the Railways as “static units”.

“It is noticed that despite the issue of instructions of allotment/renewal of such units, there has been no progress,” he wrote.

Officials said that food complaints figured high during every inspection made by the minister anywhere in the country. There have been written complaints about taste, hygiene and even quantity of the food served.

One of the problems has been that the prices of the food served on trains has not been revised for a decade. That is set to change.


A historic rail link to Kashmir Valley

The train passes through the longest railway tunnel in the country during trial run

People welcoming a train as it emerges from India’s longest railway tunnel in the Pir Panjal range during its trial run on Friday.

Northern Railway made history on Friday as the first train chugged through India’s longest railway tunnel in the Pir Panjal mountain range, connecting Kashmir Valley to Banihal town on the Srinagar-Jammu national highway.

The train, on a trial run, arrived at Banihal station from Qazigund in Anantnag district of Kashmir, and was welcomed by hundreds of residents of this highway town.

The train chugged in at the station amid thunderous applause from the people, who had assembled here to witness the historic achievement of Indian railways.

The trial run was scheduled to be conducted on Thursday but had to be postponed following protests by residents of villages falling along the Qazigund-Banihal railway link who were demanding a one-minute halt station for the train at Hillad village.

The protesters, backed by a local politician, tried to block the track again but were persuaded by the civil administration officials to allow the train to pass.

A. P. Mishra, Member of the Railway Board, said the train services between Banihal and Kashmir Valley will start in February or March next year while the entire railway project connecting the Valley with the rest of the country will be completed by 2017.

While the Baramulla-Srinagar-Qazigund link has been functional for the past four years, this was the first time that a train has crossed the mighty Pir Panjal Mountain range.

The highlight of the Qazigund-Banihal link is the 11.21-km tunnel, the longest railway tunnel in India, which has reduced the distance between the two towns by half.

The tunnel, which was constructed by Hindustan Construction Corporation (HCC), will reduce the travel distance between Qazigund and Banihal from 35 kilometres (by road) to just 17.5 kilometres (by train).

The Pir Panjal tunnel, which is the second longest in Asia, is a vital link in the Railways’ dream project of connecting Kashmir to Udhampur in Jammu region.

The tunnel is 8.40 metres wide with a height of 7.39 metres. There is a provision of a three-metre-wide road along the length of the tunnel for the purpose of maintenance and emergency relief.

The rail link will provide an alternative link between Kashmir and rest of the country as the Srinagar-Jammu national highway gets blocked regularly due to heavy snowfall. – PTI


Sites located for executive lounges at Charbagh station

There is progress in the development of the first executive lounge planned at Charbagh railway station. The sites have been identified for the two lounges to come up at both Charbagh and Lucknow Junction (LJn) station for passengers who visit the city for official purpose and do not have to stay for longer than a few hours. The facility can be used also by those who have to wait at the station to board the train to their next destination.

The lounge will be developed by the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC). Zonal railways have to identify locations for building the lounge and hand it over to IRCTC for construction. The main station has identified a location close to platform no. 1. “It is yet to be handed over to us,” said Manoj Sinha, chief regional manager, IRCTC, Lucknow. On the other hand, things are under process at LJn. The North Eastern Railway (NER) has identified the site for developing the lounge in the new hall which has been constructed at LJn.

An executive lounge will not only provide a comfortable stay, but also free refreshments and a meal. A passenger can book a lounge for four hours and pay Rs 300 as entry charge. A facility of advance booking will be extended to people on IRCTC website, once the lounge comes into existence. It will be of much use to passengers on a break-journey. There might be a facility to book it in advance too. Once the lounge comes up, IRCTC will decide on other facilities that can be provided at the place.

The facilities at the lounge would include a reclining sofa or a couch, free meal-vegetarian or non-vegetarian-snacks, drinks and beverages, Internet surfing, magazines and newspapers. The round-the-clock lounge will also have a gift (bouquets, etc) corner, medicine counter and dial-a-taxi service. But, all these facilities will be on-payment. “It’s because of the range of facilities that we wish to provide at the lounge that at least 3,000 sq ft space will be required to build it,” said the official.

IRCTC has decided to set up executive lounge in Lucknow, Gorakhpur, Varanasi, Kathgodam and Allahabad. After identification of sites for developing the lounge, the bidding process will begin once permission from the competent authority (General Manager) is granted. IRCTC has allowed tendering in Delhi and Lucknow.


Published in: on December 22, 2012 at 8:51 am  Leave a Comment  
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Realistic fares, faster and better service can put railways back on track

The scramble for train tickets along with the melee of men, women and children jostling into cramped compartments at stations signifies the ramshackle state of India’s rail assets and endemic shortage of supply.

While there is an almost insatiable clamour for more trains, IR’s high-density arterial routes remain clogged, its stations and maintenance wherewithal are overstretched, speeds remain low, and services far less than satisfactory. The more the number of passenger trains on a route, less the room for freight trains. And, freight trains are a critical support for country’s economic, industrial and agricultural needs, no less crucial for IR’s own financial health.

Inflicting an annual loss of over Rs 20,000 crore, its passenger business yields skewed returns: although passenger services aggregated 61% of IR’s total traffic in 2010-11 and freight 39%, earnings were inversely proportional: Rs 25,706 crore from passenger traffic versus Rs 60,687 crore from freight. While net freight earnings averaged an amount of Rs 599.91 per km, passenger trains caused an average net loss of Rs 334.68 per km. The passenger business is not inherently loss-making. IR is asked to deliver with its arms firmly tied.

The ordinary second-class fare, largely responsible for losses, has remained low at 15.8 paise per passenger km in 2010-11, and suburban travel still lower, at 12 paise per pkm. In comparison, the bus fare on state road transport services across the country in 2010-11 averaged 56 paise per pkm.

The purchasing power parity-adjusted rail fares in Japan are 9.4 times, in Russia 6.7 times, in Germany 6.2 times, and in China 2.7 times in comparison with India. Just to break even, rail fares have to increase by 400% for ordinary sleeper class, 125% for ordinary second class, 75% for mail and express second class, and 150% for suburban services.

While about 10 million passengers in India travel by air in a month, IR transports twice as many and more in a day. Even so, IR accounts for a meagre 10% of India’s total passenger traffic, roads carrying most of it. Rail travel demand far outstrips supply, and remains set to further grow given India’s continental distances, its burgeoning middle class, growth of urbanisation, and social and religious mores.

India’s per-capita passenger mobility is estimated to have increased from 100 km in 1950 to 3,020 km in 2000 at a 5.13% annual growth rate versus percapita GDP growth of 2.23%. More people are travelling now, and travelling more.

As slow farm growth drives migration from rural areas, railways need to facilitate large numbers to travel long distances cheaply for an integrated national labour market. Even an 8% rise in the number of passengers to be carried on IR will be from around 7.4 billion in 2009-10 to over 16 billion in 2019-20, and about 34.7 billion in 2029-30. The corresponding increase in passenger km at a 10% annual growth rate is projected to be from 839 billion in 2009-10 to 2,177 billion in 2019-20 and 5,646 billion in 2029-30.

In China, railways separated passenger and freight businesses, raised passenger fares by 75% between 1994 and 1998, discouraged shortdistance passenger traffic, reduced travel time of trains by increasing speeds and reducing train stops.

IR has its task cut out: (a) its capacity to expand exponentially, for garnering at least a 25% of total passenger traffic, up from the current 10% level, (b) its passenger and freight businesses to be managed as separate business units, (c) fares to rationally reconcile affordability by the bottom of the pyramid with viability of the organisation, (d) intra-urban, ‘regional’ and other stopping commuter services to be hived off and managed multi-modally by an autonomous corporate body in cooperation with state governments.

The total daily average of about 12,000 passenger trains include almost 4,200 short-distance non-suburban regional services, which need to be drastically curtailed and reorganised. They incur heavy losses and erode route capacity. IR must communicate: it should publish a white paper on its passenger business.

For IR, the critical area is medium and long lead passenger travel. IR needs to (a) substantially upgrade and expand long-distance (over 1,000 km) trains, aiming at 160-200 km per hour operation on post-dedicated freight corridor mixed-traffic routes, completing 1,500-km Delhi-Mumbai and Delhi-Kolkata journeys, for example, with sunset departure and sunrise arrival, (b) likewise, daylight Shatabdi-type fast services, distances up to, say, 500 km being covered within 3.5 hours, and (c) expand and accelerate overnight medium distance (500-1,000 km) trains like the many popular services IR operates in this segment.

It should also move to select high-speed (over 250 km per hour) corridors, aiming at some of them to be functional by 2020. Terminals by way of modern stations for operational and commercial transactions have been a casualty in IR’s planning process.

It needs to realistically target a total of 10-12 large stations across the country for them to come up as ‘worldclass’ stations by 2017, involving innovative designs and systems and services for booking and reservation, facilities at stations and on-board. Equally important is the critical aspect of modern, integrated production and maintenance facilities to be set up at appropriate locations.


Published in: on December 22, 2012 at 8:48 am  Leave a Comment  

SMS based railway enquiry system to inform about train delays

There is good news for railway passengers and those going to the stations to receive or seeing them off. SMS alerts would now alert them about train delays during the fog season. The Delhi division of the Northern Railway has come up with an additional phone helpline and an SMS service which will inform the public within few seconds about trains running behind schedule.

An SMS-based train enquiry system will be put into place for trains coming to or departing from New Delhi, Delhi Junction, Hazrat Nizamuddin, Anand Vihar and Delhi Sarai Rohilla stations. Passengers would be required to SMS the five digit train no. to 9717631813 and within a few seconds the system would SMS back to the passenger the expected arrival/departure of train from Delhi area stations.

“With the fog season expected to hit the Capital by December 20, trains are expected to get delayed. To find out the delay in arrival and departure of trains, besides the usual phone number 139, one can also dial 011-23747110,” said the Northern Railway spokesperson Neeraj Sharma. The only advice the Railways officials have is to enquire about the timings before leaving for the stations during the fog period.

The merry-go-round system set to handle more of Coal India output

The merry-go-round system, a closed-circuit dedicated rail transportation system between the production and the consumption points, is set to handle more of Coal India Ltd’s production in the coming years than at present.

“Within one year, the MGR system will handle an estimated at 110-120 million tonnes (mt), up from the present 84 mt annually”, S. Narsing Rao, CMD of Coal India Ltd, told Business Line. “Right now, the MGR system handles seven mt a month on an average”.

This would be possible because, as Rao explained, the new MGR systems were being installed and the existing systems upgraded. For example, the new 10 million tonne a year capacity, MGR system, to be commissioned shortly at Kanhia mines under Mahanadi Coalfields Ltd is to facilitate coal transportation to NTPC’s thermal power plant at Talcher in Odisha. The existing 10 mtpa MGR system connects MCL’s Lingaraj mines to the NTPC plant.

CIL’s total despatch of coal so far this fiscal has been 292 mt and the shares of different modes of transportation were as follows: rail 146 mt, road 84 mt, MGR system 55 mt and conveyor system seven mt.

East Coast Railway (ECoR) that transports coal from MCL mines to NTPC’s Talcher plant does not seem unduly worried at the prospects of loss of traffic to be caused by the commissioning of a MGR system at Kanhia.

“At present we load two rakes a day on an average at Kanhia for the NTPC plant which is installing 10 mtpa MGR at Kanhia keeping in view the projected future requirement to be thrown up by the capacity expansion of the plant now in progress”, a spokesman for ECoR told Business Line.” Right now the average daily coal loading at Talcher mines is more than 31 rakes. “Barring unforeseen developments, the current fiscal should end up with a throughput of 30 mt at Talcher mines”, he added.