PM to open critical Jammu and Kashmir rail link

Four and a half months after the hanging of Afzal Guru, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will extend an olive branch to the Kashmir valley by inaugurating the 17.7 km railway line from Banihal to Quazigund. The line will realise the 114-year-old dream of connecting Kashmir valley with Jammu and enable a much reduced travel time of approximately 20-25 minutes.

In what will be his first-ever visit to Kashmir since Guru’s execution, Singh will ‘dedicate’ the rail link to the people – which includes the country’s longest transportation tunnel through the Pir Panjal range. The 11.2 km long tunnel – called the T-80 or the Pir Panjal tunnel – has been constructed using the New Austrian Tunnel Method (NATM) for the first time

The rail link, part of Udhampur Srinagar Baramulla Railway Link (USBRL) project, has been executed by the Ircon International, a railways PSU. “This method has paved way for many more transportation tunnels now being undertaken in the country,” Ircon officials said.

The Prime Minister’s visit is tentatively scheduled for June 25. With the PM set to visit the Valley amid peace overtures by the Prime Minister-designate of Pakistan Nawaz Sharif, New Delhi is all set to broaden the ambit of consultations on Kashmir to start a “constructive dialogue” with all shades of opinion.

During the visit, the PM is also scheduled to release a stamp in the name of Kashmir’s famed poet Ghulam Ahmed Mehjoor, while inaugurating the Mughal Road.

It was the late Maharaja Pratap Singh, who in 1898, had first toyed with the idea of connecting Jammu with the Kashmir valley.

Dedicated freight corridor set to enhance freight carrying capacity

With India joining the select group of billion plus club in freight movement, the focus has once again shifted on the prestigious Dedicated Freight Corridor (DFC). The project will enhance the freight carrying capacity of railways by manifold leading to incremental gains, apart from freeing the existing lines on congestion. RK Gupta, Managing Director of Dedicated Freight Corridor Corporation of India speaks to Pratul Sharma on the progress made by the project.

How is the project going on. New projects being awarded and deadlines for completing these projects?

We will be finalising the contract for 640 km long Rewari (Haryana) to Palanpur (Gujarat) line worth `6,700 crore by the month-end. This will make a significant forward movement in the execution of the DFC and will set us on the course to complete the major infrastructure project by 2017.

Two consortiums — Sojits Corporation with L&T and Mitsui, Ircon and Leighton — are in the fray to bag this contract.

Work has already started on the phase I Khurja-Kanpur line in the Eastern Corridor. It will be completed by March 2017.

The 66-km of Mughal Sarai to Sonngarh (120 km) executed by the Indian Railways is likely to be opened for traffic by March next year.

The project cost of Eastern and Western DFC project is currently estimated at `95,836 crore, including cost of land. Western DFC (1,499 km) is funded by loan from Japan International Cooperation Agency. While part of Eastern DFC, 1,183 km of Ludhiana-Khurja-Dadri-Kanpur-Mughalsarai section is funded by World Bank.

Land acquisition is one of the most contentious issues in the country, for which many projects are being held up. Please tell us about the progress?

We have awarded projects on which 100 per cent land has been acquired. The DFC project requires acquiring land in nine States, covering 2,500 villages which would have affected one lakh people. Till now we have acquired 82 per cent of the land required, which comes to 8,657 hectares out of total 10,666 hectares. Rest of the work is on track, though there are certain pockets of opposition in a few villages in Gujarat where people have gone for litigation. Land acquisition has been the smoothest for this project. Of the total Rs 4,863 crore awarded, Rs 3,200 crore has already been sanctioned.

This comes to Rs 7 crore every day. The proposed bill planned by the Centre will not apply to us, as we are acquiring land under the Railways Act 2008. Each state has a separate committee headed by chief secretary which monitors the process.

Railways want to increase its share of freight loading, how will DFC help?

The DFC will not only decongest the existing lines, which will in turn help in increasing the speed of passenger trains, it will lead to other benefits. The DFC though run almost parallel with the existing lines but will not be used for moving passengers. Its aim is to provide multi-modal system for moving goods.

A separate body is already involved in building industrial corridor along the Western corridor. The Uttar Pradesh government wants to develop urban zone in the state. The Urban Development Ministry is looking after this aspect.

Over 200 locomotives with 9,000 horse power (HP) are being bought from Japan that will run on DFC. The carrying capacity of rakes will increase from the current 300 tonnes to over 12,000 tonnes. Even the length of the train will increase to 1500 meters.

Railways gear up for monsoon flooding

Having identified all major high-tide days expected during this monsoon, Central and Western Railways are busy gearing up for the rains, planning additional staff deployment at flooding-prone spots, desilting nullahs and installing pumps to prevent flooding.

The Railways have identified and alerted commuters of eight days of high tide between June 24 and August 22, as declared by the meteorological department, when Mumbai is likely to receive the heaviest rainfall. Both the railways have said that they have undertaken an analysis of the rainfall pattern across Mumbai and the flood-prone areas, and would accordingly deploy officials on high-tide days.

“Central Railway will have a new system of detecting waterlogging on the tracks. Earlier, the track circuit used to fail due to waterlogging, and due to this, signals too would fail and trains would have to slow down. Now we have installed axle counters at Parel, Kurla, Thane and Kalyan among other stations which are flood-prone. These axle counters will detect waterlogging on the tracks,” divisional railway manager Mukesh Nigam said.

Central Railway has deployed 125 labourers to clean drains over 100 km, and expects to complete cleaning of 68 culverts by May 31. The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation has paid Rs 1.79 crore to Central Railway and Rs 44 lakh to Western Railway for cleaning nullahs and culverts. The BMC has also undertaken installation of 50 pumps in low-lying areas, and expects to complete the work by May 31.

On Western Railway, authorities have identified places such as Matunga, Mahim, Bandra, Borivali and Kandivali among other areas as low-lying. A total of 58 pumps are being installed in these areas.

“Work of cleaning and desilting of 43 culverts is going on,” said Sarat Chandrayan, chief public relations officer, Western Railway. The Railways are also water-proofing all rakes and undertaking special maintenance work on signals and overhead electrical equipment.

Published in: on May 29, 2013 at 4:57 pm  Leave a Comment  

Japan to sell bullet train technology to India

India is seen set to use Japanese bullet train technology for a high-speed connection between Mumbai and Ahmedabad, a report said on Wednesday, the centrepiece of a huge package of infrastructure sales.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his Indian counterpart Manmohan Singh will issue a joint statement at a summit later in the day giving details on a feasibility study for the railway, the Nikkei newspaper said.

Abe is to offer a sweetener in the form of 101.7 billion yen ($1.0 billion) in yen-based loans to India, the Nikkei said, as Tokyo fights off competition from nations such as France, which has the TGV high-speed rail network.

Japan under Abe is embarking on a renewed drive to sell roads, rail and power stations to emerging nations, including India, in a bid to offset lassitude in the domestic economy that has left it treading water.

Earlier this month Abe pledged he would travel the world on behalf of Japan Inc and said he wanted to treble sales of Japan’s well-respected infrastructure projects to 30 trillion yen a year.

The Mumbai-Ahmedabad rail line would stretch 500 kilometres (312 miles) at a cost of up to one trillion yen, the Nikkei said, adding the two governments plan to finish technological reviews and costings by March 2014.

Abe was also expected to offer around 17.7 billion yen to India to build a conference hall and other facilities at the Indian Institute of Technology in Hyderabad, along with around 13 billion yen for the Tamil Nadu state government, the Nikkei said.

The pledges will come on top of a March offer of a 71 billion yen loan towards the construction of an underground rail network in Mumbai.

Japanese media have said the two sides will agree on drafting a master plan for new infrastructure in southern India, which could see Japanese know-how used to build a power grid, roads, railways and ports around Bangalore and Chennai.

The sales boom comes as the two countries — both democracies — eye the rise of China with increasing unease as Beijing presses territorial claims with growing insistence.

Singh on Tuesday called for the shoring up of military and security ties, Kyodo News said, stressing the commonalities between Tokyo and Delhi.

“We should intensify our political dialogue and expand our strategic consultations on… issues of mutual interest,” Singh said in a speech, adding that defence and security dialogue, military exercises and defence technology collaboration should also grow between the two countries, according to Kyodo.

Singh stressed that Japan is the only country with which India has held a “two-plus-two” meeting of foreign and defence ministers, Kyodo said.

Media reports earlier this week said Japan was expected to sell amphibious planes to India in what would be the first sale of hardware used by the Japanese military since a weapons export ban was imposed in the 1960s.

Published in: on May 29, 2013 at 4:54 pm  Leave a Comment  
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A ‘shadow’ regulator for Railways?

In this year’s Railway Budget, there was a proposal to set up a Rail Tariff Authority. A number of international models for a Railway regulator are available, but these are basically designed to specify norms for approval and monitoring of independent train operators and concessionaires. In India, the situation is somewhat different, with the Indian Railways being the principal transport operator. It would be necessary to lay down the role of the regulator in our context.

The regulator should be responsible for setting fares and tariffs, which are fair to the service provider as well as to the customer. The regulator should safeguard public interest and ensure that the monopoly of the operator and its market power is not abused to the detriment of the customers’ interest. Concurrently, the regulator must also protect the service provider against overbearing sectarian and political interests.

Strategic objectives

The strategic objectives of the Government relating to public distribution system, protection of the national borders and development of backward regions should be factored in. Fund requirements for strategic interest projects and for special movements should be separately computed for possible direct support from the central exchequer.

Regulator should lay down the minimum quantum of the service delivery and the quality standards. It should be a confidence-building institution that would encourage public-private participation, which today, at least in the Indian Railways, suffers from a trust deficit.

To ensure independence, the Regulator should be a creature of an appropriate statute enacted by the Parliament. Chapters VI and VII of the Indian Railways Act, 1989, which deal with fixing rates and dispute resolution, would need to be amended.

To ensure transparency, the Regulator should engage in wide-ranging consultations with all stakeholders to arrive at the criteria to be adopted for rate fixing. The process to be followed and the criteria for rate fixing should be clearly articulated and shared with all concerned. The Regulator has to come up with a 24×7 system. Quick response to issues and grievances are essential. An image of impartiality should be built up, both in substance and appearance.

Process of regulation

The process of regulation and fixing of rates should take into account the fact that at present the Railways are a monopoly operator and have no real competitors. Road haulers address different segments of passenger and freight traffic. Comparative data, though useful, are of limited application in fixing benchmarks of railway tariffs.

There are, however, two possible approaches to rate fixing.

Returns on capital: This appears to be a logical method, but our system of accounting would need a total revamp. Capital-based accounting system would be time-consuming and expensive exercise. Further, the capital base of the Indian Railways, accumulated through loans in perpetuity spread over a century and half, is too large. It includes non-operating components, such as hospitals, schools and employee settlements, among others, in a substantial measure. This aggregate capital, when corrected for the present day, costs would generate rates that would be too high and, as such, unrealistic. Even if the capital attributable to the delivery of services is segregated, there would always be a temptation to bloat the capital assets base. This approach is, as such, not recommended.

Benchmark pricing: Initially, a benchmark for rates could be fixed through consultations between the Railways and the Regulator, based on the analysis of sector-wise costs of the audited data submitted by the Railways. Historical trends in fares and tariff would provide valuable inputs to the Regulator. The political interventions that caused distortions in trends should be identified and isolated. Finally, an element of reasonable profit/surplus could be built in.

While basing the rates on costs, it is important to remember that all expenses are not costs. For instance, expenses incurred in celebrations, inaugurations, advertisement of events, providing medical services, running educational institutions, maintenance of settlements, promotion of sports and cultural activities, are expenses but not necessarily costs to be apportioned to the freight, passenger and parcel services. No doubt, a reasonable amount for corporate social responsibilities could be built in.

Simplest way would be to link fares with the Consumer Price Index (CPI) or the Wholesale Price Index (WPI). But, in my view, it would be more appropriate to index it with a statistic that reflects the variation in cost of inputs that directly affect railway tariffs. A Rail Tariff Index (RTI) that comprises cost variations in steel, cement, electrical energy, diesel fuel, lubricants, stores purchases and staff costs could be devised for annual/biannual revisions.

With modernisation, induction of advanced technology and managerial innovations, the productivity of service delivery is expected to improve. This would have a beneficial effect on tariffs that should be reduced taking into account this efficiency factor.

Finally, the Railway infrastructure would need continuous inputs for expansion of system capacity and improving quality of service and safety. The fare box collection would need to be increased to make provision for this urgent requirement.

The rate fixing process would, as such, cover the following path: Fix benchmark rates; escalate rates on the basis of RTI; reduce rates on the basis of efficiency factor; and increase them to provide for infrastructure development.

While rates escalation on the basis of RTI could be applied annually, the efficiency factor and infrastructure development requirements could be assessed once in three years and applied accordingly.

Setting up of an independent Regulatory Authority, would need, among others, an amendment to the Chapter VI and VII of the Indian Railways Act. Given the long list of enactments pending in Parliament, this may take at least two to three years. With elections slated for 2014, the possibility of an early enactment seems remote.

In the interim, therefore, it would be prudent to put in place a “shadow” Regulator entrusted with the aforesaid roles, attributes and methodology for rate fixing. The Regulator could be an individual or a team of specialist commissioners with Railway domain knowledge and a deep understanding of the art and science of rates.

To begin with, this could be a recommendatory body and the Government will have the authority to accept, reject or modify the recommendations.

The Government would be free to address social needs and political dispensations as long as these are fair to both the Railways and the rail users.

The Regulator will place the entire process of rate fixing, along with the back-up data, in the public domain for all to see and formulate a clear picture of the rates scenario and comprehend its implications on the Railway finances and service delivery. Despite being just a recommendatory authority, such a transparent mechanism would enable the political executive to take tough decisions.

The subsidies in various sectors, particularly between freight and passenger, as well as between upper class passenger and the unreserved class services will also be identified by the Regulator to enable the Government to take a call on these issues and enable preparation of a road map for gradual phase out of subsidies.

The Regulator will also identify and recommend areas where the Government is expected to compensate the Railways for the socially desirable expenses.

(The author is the former General Manger of Central Railway.)

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated May 27, 2013)

South Central Railway seems to be harnessing women power in preventing revenue leakage through ticketless travelling. Its all-women squads, called ‘Tejaswini’, have set cash registers ringing by fining passengers who are trying to dodge the system.

In 2012, members of Tejaswini in Secunderabad, Vijayawada and Guntur helped SCR earn Rs 2.43 crore, an increase from Rs 2.25 crore in 2011.
Describing their work, the squad members said they are split into batches before boarding trains headed in different directions. Their job is to locate ticketless travelers, irregular travelers (those traveling in the wrong compartment) and passengers carrying ‘unlawful’ goods secretly and fine them.

“It is a challenging job. We travel as far as Vikarabad or Bhongir everyday and encounter all kinds of passengers. Though most defaulters readily pay fines when caught, some do not comply easily . In such cases, we enlist the assistance of RPF personnel who travel with us,” says 40-year-old K Nandini, who has been a squad member in the Secunderabad division for a decade.

Squad batches are assigned trains for surprise checks on a daily basis and members are instructed to board at various locations. Sometimes members of Tejaswini also travel with members of other squads in motor vehicles following trains on routes where ticketless travel is known to be rampant. The personnel halt the train to conduct thorough checks.

“We do encounter a few rude passengers but with the assistance of co-passengers we ensure compliance. Our job is not just to fine an erring traveller but also to counsel the person to prevent repeated violations,” says K Swapana, who has also been serving in the Secunderabad squad for 10 years.

About 57,000 cases were booked by the squads in 2013, a slight increase over 2012, and 10% of all cases booked by exclusive squads last year in the three divisions. In Secunderabad alone, the squad comprising 14 women booked 2,783 cases and collected Rs 12.6 lakh in April this year.

The first squad was formed in Vijayawada in 2001 to handle women passengers. In the Secunderbad divison, the squad was created in 2003, while the Guntur squad was created last year. In all, there are 35 women in the three squads. “Tejaswini was created to handle women passengers but today our role has expanded to covering all passengers on a train,” adds Nandini.

Biometric devices at railway station entrances soon

All railway stations in the country will be provided with biometric devices at the entrance gates to ensure the safety of passengers, Union minister of state for railways K Suryaprakash Reddy said in Mahbubnagar on Monday.

After inspecting the Jedcherla and Mahbubnagar railway stations, he said passengers’ safety is a prime concern for the Indian railways. He said escalators will also be provided at all main railway stations in a phased manner.
He said another train will be introduced between Kurnool and Hyderabad, like in the existing Tungabhadra train. He said nearly Rs 1,023 crores and 23 new trains were allocated to the state during this year for the development of the state.
The minister also said a foot over bridge would be constructed at the Jedcherla railway station. He assured passengers that the need for a halt of Yashwanthpur express would be looked into.

Published in: on May 28, 2013 at 4:24 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Central Railway to set up 135 new, improved ticket vending machines soon

In an attempt to provide relief to passengers, the Central Railway is installing 135 new Automatic Ticket Vending Machines (ATVM) on the main and harbour line stations.

These new ATVMs will replace some of the old ATVMs, which often break down creating trouble for passengers. “We have already installed 92 new ATVMs, and rest other will be in place soon,” said a senior official of CR.

Due to frequent breakdowns in the last one year, passengers have stopped using ATVMs. Hence, CR officials are hoping that the new ATVMs will help to regain confidence of passengers and reduce queues on ticket windows.

According to railway sources, the newly procured ATVMs have been improved: While making the ATVM design more user-friendly, the railways have also tried to rectify its problems. For instance, the card reader slot was placed at a low level in the old ATVMs, making it difficult for passengers to place and remove cards. In new machines, the slot is placed higher.

The railway board has already set March 2014 as the deadline to phase out Coupon Vending Machines (CVM), which has so far been the most popular alternative for suburban tickets after booking windows. Before phasing CVMs out, the railways want a sufficient number of ATVMs in place to replace them.

The official said that within six months they are going to procure more 288 ATVMs. “Preparation of the tender document is under process and soon new tenders will be invited for those,” said the official.

In 2007, the railways introduced smart cards for the first time at these ATVMs. Since then, CR has installed 250 ATVMs on its suburban stations, of which 75 were installed last year.

125 years of Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST)

A strong reminder of the colonial roots and strength of Indian Railways, Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST), formerly Victoria Terminus, completes 125 years this month.
A rare combo of Victorian Italianate Gothic Revival architecture and Mughal beauty, the world heritage building came up in 1888. The busiest railway station in the country is a terminus for long-distance as well as Mumbai suburban trains.

It is the only operational world heritage station building.

It is the place where the first page of Indian Railways history was written 160 years ago on April 16, 1853, when the first train was started between Bori Bunder and Tannah (CSTM and Thane) in Mumbai. The initial four services a day ferried about 1,000 passengers.

Today, 1,618 services from the station cater to about 65 lakh commuters every day.

When the British introduced the service for personal convenience they would not have imagined it would one day spread to such proportions covering the length and breadth of the country, 65,000 km in all, and bring about a geographical and socio-economic sea change.

Of the 65,000 km rail network, 54,600 km is broad gauge.

Central Railway then general manager and at present member engineering, railway board, Delhi, Subodh Jain, who has completed 37 years in service, narrates the story of Indian Railways which graduated from narrow/metre gauge (serving “narrow-minded people”) to broad gauge (serving the “broad-minded”).

He explains Cotton Green (a station for suburban trains in Mumbai), dak bungalows and mails.

Before railways, all vehicles were animal-driven. Once James Watt harnessed the power of steam, horse power was replaced.

Subsequently, George Stephenson invented the first steam engine locomotive in 1816 — Rocket.

The first passenger train ran in India on April 13, 1853, and the next day a Parsi booked all its seats for a “joyride”.

Prior to this, trains would bring cotton to Bombay Port to be shipped to Manchester, England.

This is how Cotton Green came into being. It was an exchange where cotton would be brought from different parts of the country for trade.

To start with, horse riders, called dakiye (postmen), would bring mail for viceroys in Peshawar, Delhi, Kanpur and other places.

The places where dakiyes and tired horses would rest and mail change hands came to be known as dak bungalows.

Trains followed the same system and came to be known as mails and loco sheds replaced dak bungalows.

At loco sheds, steam engines low on fuel would be detached and fresh ones loaded with coal would be attached. This was also the time train drivers would go to running rooms for rest.

Initially, all trains carried the suffix mail as their objective was to carry mail, not passengers. So it was Punjab Mail, Frontier Mail.

When the talk of carrying passengers began, Lord Dalhousie suggested Hindustan should have broad gauge, not metre or narrow gauge.

After Dalhousie returned to Britain, Indian kings sought narrow or metre gauge.

In 1873, permission was granted to maharajas and Indian rail companies to lay metre gauge lines for passenger transport and a network of chhoti lines was established.

In 1892, it was realised metre gauge caused loss, the service was poor and speed less. This prompted a uni-gauge — one gauge all over India — policy.

Soon, conversion of metre gauge to broad gauge began. Areas that already had broad gauge lines saw rapid industrial development with an influx of labour. Labourers migrating from metre gauge areas — Kutch in Gujarat, north Bihar — to broad gauge areas initially faced ridicule. Dekho, ye chhoti line ka admi hai!

Thus, populations were gauged — residents of developed areas (broad gauge), those of backward areas (metre gauge) and of no-development areas (no rail network).

Bombay Baroda Central Indian Railway was initially Central Indian Railways. But when the British sought to lay a rail line in Baroda, the king of Baroda told them the company name should also include the state name.

This is why Dadar is both BB (Bombay Baroda) and TT (Tram Terminus). The trams would run between Regal Cinema and Dadar.

Tour packs selling to pep adult Shatabdi

For those looking for brief escapes from a Capital, northern railways’ Shatabdi Express could shortly be a many gentle option.

The Indian Railway Catering Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) is formulation new affordable tourism packages around Shatabdi routes and railways is going to start on house selling on a trains soon.

A ride guide, Holidays by Shatabdi, published by Lonely Planet, was denounced by Anurag Kumar Sachan, local railway manager, Northern Railway, on Monday.

The beam book would yield extensive sum and tips on 30 trips from Delhi that can be done by Shatabdi express.

This includes destinations along a Shatabdi routes starting from Delhi to Kathgodam, Dehradun, Kalka, Amritsar, Ajmer and Bhopal.

The ride beam elucidates a sights, fun activities, accommodation, eating options during these destinations, detached from Shatabdi’s time report and ride options to and from a sight stations.

“We had started a commander plan on on-board selling for a month and now it’s going to turn a unchanging underline on all Shatabdis,” pronounced Sachan.

Sanjay Kumar Jain, organisation ubiquitous manager, IRCTC, pronounced there are packages accessible formed on Shatabdi routes. “The packages take caring of all from ride to accommodation and food. Tourists wouldn’t have to worry about reservations also,” he said.

“The series of domestic ride by Indians is most aloft than travelling abroad. That is because we wanted to move a Lonely Planet knowledge to sight travellers,” pronounced Sesh Sheshadri, ubiquitous manager, Lonely Planet India.

“Shatabdi creates brief trips and this book focuses on such brief trips from a capital. We would come out with identical beam books for other cities as well,” Sheshadri said.

Published in: on May 28, 2013 at 4:06 pm  Leave a Comment  
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