Railways speeding up fare revision

Unable to make both ends meet and generate resources for development, the Railways are hurriedly preparing at least two Cabinet notes for ushering in investment through Public-Private-Partnership (PPP) mode and increasing freight and passenger fares in tune with the rise in input cost.

The objective is to ensure sustained income to meet sustained expenditure for sustained development, all of which have been eluding the Railways for more than three years. A sense of urgency was reflected in the freight increase ahead of the 2012 budget presentation but the move to increase passenger fares met with only limited success for political reasons.

Now the Railways have decided to make amends and increase fares for second and sleeper classes which would bridge the gap by Rs. 4,000 crore annually. Authorities are mulling over the propriety involved in this action as Parliament has approved withdrawal of a proposed hike in the fare for these classes.

The Cabinet note for setting up the Rail Tariff Authority is almost in the final stages, according to highly placed Railway Board sources.

The authority would suggest the guidelines on which cargo and passenger fares would be revised basically in proportion to the hike or reduction in diesel prices. The board will take the final call on such issues.

The Cabinet note on PPP mode is more complicated as the Railways are keen on retaining the operational function because it involves their land and assets. Moreover, efforts during the past three years to woo private investors have not yielded results.

Plan panel objection

The Planning Commission, however, is not amused by the proposed Cabinet note. Its senior officials are viewing it with suspicion as a delaying tactic on the part of railway officials wanting to maintain their stranglehold on the affairs of the Railways.

Besides viewing it as a general note, the Commission officials question the need for such an exercise when the Centre has already issued guidelines for the formulation, appraisal and approval of PPP projects.

They stressed that the Railways had only prepared projects based on the guidelines issued in 2005 and sought the approval of the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs or the Cabinet, if required.

Don’t count us out: union

But the Railways have also to contend with trade unions, whose leader Vivek Khare said they were not against induction of technology or development of the Railways through PPP mode but there had to be fair play.

The unions have suggested that bids be invited and joint ventures formed, and that the Railways use the land at their disposal as equity in the proposed business. The unions warned against bidding them out, underscoring that a union had opposed leasing of prime land at Bandra in Mumbai for which bids had been called.

The Cabinet note would ensure sustained income to meet sustained expenditure

The Planning Commission views the note as a delaying tactics by the railways.


Rlys to give first chance to tatkal waiting list

In this festive season, the common man’s quest for a confirmed train ticket is made almost impossible by a new rule of the Railway Board that gives preference to tatkal tickets over those in the general waiting list.

After a lot of internal debate and conflicts — which saw the railway bureaucracy divided in opinion on the new rule — it was decided earlier this year that whenever the capacity in a popular train gets augmented by addition of extra coaches, the berths will be given to ticket-holders in tatkal waiting list. Only after the tatkal list has been exhausted, if at all, will the general waitlisted tickets, booked months in advance, get in. The rule came into effect through an official circular in May.

During the prevailing festive rush of Diwali and Chhath, from October 10 and November 20, the Railways has rolled out 60 special trains to popular destinations, over and above the existing ones. Four hundred extra coaches are being attached every day to Rajdhanis, Shatabdis, Durontos during this period. Railway officials confirmed that in these coaches, tickets waitlisted in tatkal were accommodated first, which means that majority of those who booked months in advance in the general waiting list were denied. Currently, the general waiting list for popular mail/ express trains is running into hundreds.

Sources said that during discussions, the Finance and Commercial directorates of the Railway Board held that as a commercial organisation, the commitment to tatkal waiting list should be greater because tatkal booking is costlier than ordinary booking. In these times of financial crunch, this argument could not be ignored. “As per rules, the length of the general waiting list and past booking patterns serve as the basis for authorising extra coaches in trains. Due to the new rule, those who booked way in advance cannot benefit from it,” said a railway official.


Published in: on November 17, 2012 at 7:49 am  Leave a Comment  
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High-level railway meeting to discuss fare hike today

Monday, new railway minister Pawan Kumar Bansal took up the issue of increase in the passenger fare.

He will hold a high-level meeting on Tuesday with Railway Board members and other senior officials of the ministry to discuss the matter.

Disclosing it to media, Bansal said that passenger hike is essential for providing better services to the train travellers. He also expressed confidence that people will accept the idea as they need better service.

“”We have to ensure that the vast infrastructure of the railways does not collapse and stop functioning. So we have to increase fares and assure the public. The public will also appreciate it because we are going to improve the services,” said the minister.

The minister declared safety as the highest priority of the railways, and enumerated cleanliness and punctuality as among other important priorities. “We are aware of the fact that the primary concern is the safety of passengers. We have to do our best to ensure security of the passengers. Cleanliness is also important besides punctuality. We have to give a clean environment in the trains,” he said.

The minister’s assertion about fare hike has given rise to the speculation over the timing and quantum of the increase in passenger fare. It is most likely that the ministry will not to wait for the next budget to introduce a hike.

In his short stint in the railway ministry, C P Joshi had announced setting up a Rail Tariff Authority to determine tariffs of passenger and freight services.

Besides, the ministry has with it recommendations of the Sam Pitroda Committee and Anil Kakodkar Committee. The Pitroda Committee has recommended modernisation surcharge on per kilometre basis, while the Kokodkar Committee calculated a safety cess which should generate Rs 5,000 crore per year.


Congress ministers ask for panel to check rail fares

Some senior Congress cabinet members has recently urged the Centre to set up a rail tariff regulatory commission that will take stock of fares.

Their request was placed even before a panel, headed by businessman Deepak Parekh, recommended that the Centre should increase passenger train fares to help mobilize funds for infrastructure plans. Even before a high level panel headed by leading businessman Deepak Parekh recommended to the centre to hike passenger fares for mobilising funds for infrastructure projects, a section of senior Congress cabinet members have urged the centre to set up a rail tariff regulatory commission to take stock of the existing fare deciding system.

According to a senior Congress minister, the idea of setting up a commission was mooted by chief minister Prithviraj Chavan during his meeting with Railway Board chairman Vinay Mittal here. “Chavan said sooner or later, the Centre would have to set up a rail tariff regulatory commission to take a professional decision on fares,” he said.

The minister said ever since the railway portfolio was entrusted with Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress, populist decisions, particularly on fares and freight charges, were taken without considering the adverse impact on economy. “In the past seven to eight years, Trinamool never agreed to raise passenger train fares, and so the Railway Board faioled to mobilize funds even for routine work. Several projects, particularly those in rural areas, had to be abandoned,” he said.

Echoing him, a senior bureaucrat said if a rail tariff regulatory commission came into force, the members would take a realistic view of the existing structure and hike fares if needed. “At the moment, even if fares are fixed by the administration, final decision is taken by political heads,” he said.


Western railway corridor gets PM nod

The railway projects in the city have got a boost as well as a setback.

Prime minister Manmohan Singh has given the nod for the Rs18,000-crore elevated railway corridor on the Western Railway from Churchgate to Virar. But, the railway board has rejected the Rs32,000-crore elevated corridor on the Central Railway from Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus to Kalyan.

Chief minister Prithviraj Chavan had reservations about the elevated corridor, considering the complex project as it would require a lot of changes in the central and western line.

“It appears that the PMO has taken a hasty decision without a proper debate. The project should have been debated at length before taking a decision,” said former Union minister Ram Naik.
Former Union minister and Mumbai member of Parliament (MP) Gurudas Kamat took special initiative to push the Western Railway’s elevated railway corridor with the PMO.

However, state executing agencies such as the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) and urban development department have not even discussed the project in detail.

“We have not even held a preliminary meeting with the railway department on elevated corridor along the Western Railway,” said a senior secretary in the Urban Development Ministry.

The MMRDA, which is executing the two metro rail projects, is struggling to keep pace with the deadlines which had to be extended from 2010 to 2014 following delays in land acquisitions and removal of illegal encroachments along the project.

The Western Railway’s elevated corridor, which will take seven to eight years to be completed, is a joint public-private partnership project of the railways, the state government and private organisation. The coaches will be air-conditioned. “At the moment it is impossible to set a deadline of eight years when the basic home work is not completed,” said officials of the urban department.

Naik added that the inordinate delay in the project’s execution has lead to its cost escalation from Rs 3,125 crore to Rs 4,174 crore.
Meanwhile, almost 17 months after the widening of tracks from Virar to Dahanu, the railways are yet to commission the Churchgate-Dahanu direct local trains.


IIT Kharagpur helps Indian rail speed up

At a time when the world has reached a speed of 330 kilometres per hour on rail, the best that India could achieve has been a little over 130 kilometres per hour. But it is high time that we too sped up, feels the Indian Railways and with this intent, it has entrusted IIT Kharagpur with the responsibility of providing the technological knowhow. The research is to happen at the newly opened Railway Research Centre of IIT Kharagpur and work has already started. The goal is to immediately increase the maximum attainable speed to 200 kilometres per hour.

Experts who have workd in the railway board are however askance. They feel that over the past two decades the focus of the railways has been to keep the fare low, even if it is at the cost of not improving the infrastructure or spending to augment safety of rail travel. To introduce high speed trains the centre will have to re-lay tracks at a cost of Rs 100 crores per kilometer, which is a mammoth expenditure that the railways are not prepared for. So why this exercise?

The project that IIT Kharagpur has received is four pronged and is aimed at improving not only the speed but the general efficiency of moving trains, keeping the present infrastructure in mind. A total of three years time has been allotted to the centre within which time it should come up with solutions to the specific problems that have been earmarked by the Railway Board, the apex administrative body of the Indian Railways.

Four broad areas have been identified as “immediate needs” by the railways – improving speed, imrpoving carrying capacity (heavy haul), use of advanced material, advanced signalling and maintenance for better safety. A total of eight IIT Kgp departments have started work in tandem for this.

“Speed is a priority for the railways at the moment. However, as things stand now, it is not possible to haul it up from the existing 130 kilometres per hour to the desired 330 kilometres per hour. Countries that have been able to achieve this use a completely different rail technology. So we have decided to do it in stages. We will first provide the technical support that will help to increase the speed to 200 kilometres per hour,” explained Siddhartha Mukherjee, a senior faculty member who heads the centre and is leading the research.

Nearly 100 faculty members and research scholars are working together on the project that involves electrical, ciomputer science, mechanical, metallurgy, civil, rubber technology, electronics and aeronautical engineering departments. There is a lot of excitement on campus over this mammoth project and faculty members say that a project of such magnitude has never been tried before.

One of the key experiments happenening at the moment in the institute’s laboratories is whether a different quality of steel should be used both in the construction of the rails as well as the coaches. One of the options that the scientists are looking at, is Bainitic Steel. “It is unparalleled in its malleability and ductility. The most advanced railway systems in the world have already been using this steel. However, we will also have to consider mass availability of this kind of steel and the cost effectiveness,” informed Mukherjee. This steel is being considered especially because the Railway Board has asked the institute to provide the knowhow so that the load carrying capacity can be sharply increased. “We will have to use the hypothetical load and study the resultant stress and strain over a long period of time before arriving at a conclusion. The material used to build the compartments and the design of the compartments will also go through changes to increase efficiency,” said a faculty member involved in the project.

The recent spate of accidents have also induced the railways to ask the institute to imrpove the signalling quality. While in the more advanced systems in the world, fully computerised cab signalling is in vogue, India still follows the old rail side signalling technique. “We have been told that the idea was not to completely change the old pattern but to improve efficieny of the existing signalling system by developing an analytic signalling logic design tool,” Mukherjee explained.


Railways Rs 500cr plan for green toilets on passenger trains

Railways has taken up a Rs 500-crore plan to equip its passenger coaches with environment-friendly toilet system. The project cost is being shared by the rural development ministry to improve hygiene in toilets on trains.

The railways had earlier signed an MoU with the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) to develop such a toilet system.

According to a Railway Board official, railways has given directives to its coach manufacturing factories at Kapurthala in Punjab and Perambur in Tamil Nadu to manufacture new coaches fitted with green toilet system. Railways has taken a decision to convert old toilets into green toilet system in about 50,000 coaches across the country, he said. A board official said the railway coach manufacturing factories have so far built such green toilets in about 436 new coaches to cater to the needs of passengers. Railway coach factories have been manufacturing about 4,000 new coaches per year.

Railways intends to introduce such toilets in all long-distance passenger trains on a priority basis, he said.

Sources said the DRDO has designed the new green toilet system in consultation with railways and rural development ministry with the main objective of developing this system to maintain zero discharge toilet system (ZDTS) on running trains. The new toilets are aimed at providing homely comforts to passengers during long journey, sources said.

A board official admitted that a green toilet-fitted train was put on trial recently on a particular route under Northern Railway which evoked good response among passengers.

Meanwhile, railways has also decided to introduce a new system on select long-distance trains. Under the new experiment, railways is likely to provide phenyl-like substance to passengers to ensure hygiene in toilets on running trains.

This experiment will start with all Duronto trains, sources said, adding railways will introduce this system depending on passengers’ response. Confirming it, a board official said that the new system is being tested in South Eastern Railway first.

Railways cuts telescopic benefits as freight moves shorter distances

As the distance that goods are moved through rail declines, the Railways plans to continue the trend of reducing telescopic benefit.

Mr K. K. Srivastav, Member – Traffic, Railway Board, told Business Line, “This (trend) will continue.”

The Indian Railways may have registered over five per cent growth in commodity loading in June 2012 year-on-year, but the average distance for which commodities are transported is down by over three per cent.

The Railways moved its customers’ cargo 638 km this June, against 658 km in June 2011.

The average lead was 679 km in 2010-11 and 676 km in 2009-10. To deal with this reduction in average distance, the Railways has been tweaking its freight rates in a manner so as to reduce the telescopic benefits, which it has traditionally given to customers.

Simply put, the progressive rate, at which the Railways charged lower for the longer distances, has sharply reduced.

This has helped the Railways register almost 27 per cent growth in earnings for moving a tonne of freight over a kilometre, but this is lower than the 23 per cent growth it has seen for every tonne of cargo.

However, the Government-run behemoth has set a target of increasing its average lead to 662 km in the current fiscal. For this, it could be helped by petroleum products, foodgrains, cement, steel, and domestic container movement. Those commodities that moved shorter distances include coal for thermal powerhouses and cement.

In June, the Railways moved 80.43 million tonnes of cargo, with a 5.23 per cent growth.

The freight earnings were at Rs 6,925 crore, up 29.21 per cent during the period.


Soon, stink free, clean toilets at railway stations

Indian Railways have come out with a new policy to give a makeover to dilapidated and untidy toilets at stations by introducing Renovate, Operate, Maintain and Transfer (ROMT) concept.

As per the policy issued by the Railway Board, the selection of the agency under ROMT of Pay and Use toilet facility will have to be done by calling the Express of Interest.

A senior railway official said, “The agency will have to use good quality ceramic flooring, besides providing at least one European style toilet, adequate exhaust fans to ensure proper air circulation for removing foul smell. It should also make arrangement for disabled friendly toilet.”

The lay out plan for renovated unit should be approved from the railways. The plan should also show disposal or sewage and sullage drains and electrical wiring and fittings.

The agency will have ensure mechanical scrubbing and polishing of floor surface of the toilet, use anti-odour materials and prevent encroachment in and around the toilet premises.

The official said, “The service provider will be allowed to charge the passenger/users Rs 2 for using latrine and Rs 5 for using bathroom. However, no charge will be levied for urinals. However at ‘C’ category (suburban) stations, zonal railways may consider with the approval of General Manager to levy a charge of Rs 1 for urinals where maintenance of toilet is found to unviable.”

If the service provider fails to provide desired level of cleanliness, a fine ranging from Rs 500 to Rs 2000 will be levied, he added.


Soon, 1,000 ATVMs at CR stations

In the next three months Central Railway (CR) officials plan to install 1,000 automatic ticket vending machines (ATVMs) on stations.
The Railway Board has asked CR and Western Railway to prepare a plan for phasing out coupon validating machines by March 2013. Both the railways will have to increase ATVMs to ensure that commuters are not inconvenienced during the switchover.
“Around 1,000 ATVMs will be procured within three to four months,” a senior CR official said. “Our aim is to reduce the waiting period to purchase tickets. There are 225 ATVMs across 76 CR stations. Of which, some will have to be phased out as they have become unfit,” the official added.Thecostof a single ATVM is estimated to be around Rs 1to 1.25 lakh.
On an average, ATVMs and the unreserved ticketing system (UTS) booking windows dispense two lakh and eight lakh tickets daily.
CR has already made it mandatory for passengers to lineup at the booking officeto buy CVM booklets. As a result, their sale has dropped. “As compared to 92 lakh booklets sold in April 2011, only 59 lakh were sold in the corresponding periodthis year,” an official said.