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Reforming Indian Railways can impact the lives of 1.2 billion citizens

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By Amit Kapoor

The railways sector has seen some activity in the past few months. Not only there are operational changes being brought about but a long-term strategic view seems to be in sight. The operation changes in ‘tatkal’ remuneration in respect to cancellation as well as the choice to upgrade to a domestic airline in case of wait-listed seats are steps that are beneficial to customers.

The long-term view seems to come from the recently constituted seven-member committee under the chairmanship of economist Bibek Debroy on Mobilizing Resources for Projects and Restructuring of Indian Railways. The report proposes five fundamental points for the IR, specifically and the railways sector to look into:

First, what is the core role of the IR in India? This question is pertinent to understanding the core activities and the peripheral ones and separating the commercial from the social role of the IR. At present, there are a lot of activities that take up considerable time and effort on the part of IR. These include the medical service that IR runs with an infrastructure of 125 hospitals, 586 health units and 14,000 beds. Also, pertinent in this regard is the 1 degree college and 168 schools that IR runs. These along with the railway protection, catering, real estate development, housing and the like, according to the committee, are non-core activities that can be clearly outsourced.

Second the report calls for proper accounting procedures and commercial considerations in IR. A formally reformed accounting system will enable the Ministry of Railways that has administrative control over 6 established production units and 16 public sector undertakings (PSUs) to keep proper accounts. Similarly, it will also enable the understanding the level of subsidization in the 17 zones and 68 divisions into which the IR at present is bifurcated. A case in point that finds mention is the Kolkata Metro rail. Any future suburban systems according to the committee should be built on a JV route with state governments (on a 50:50 basis), and the cost should not be borne by IR.

Third, the report recommends streamlining the HR procedures and processes in IR. It is fundamental to carrying out the organizational transformation. It is primarily to be achieved by merging and consolidating the eight Group ‘A’ services into two services. These could be respectively called the Indian Railway Technical Service (IRTechS) comprising of the existing five technical services (IRSE, IRSSE, IRSEE, IRSME and IRSS) and the Indian Railway Logistics Service (IRLogS), comprising the three non-technical services (IRAS, IRPS and IRTS). Aligned with the streamlining of HR procedures is the decentralization of the authority and responsibility to at least the level of Divisional Railway Manager (DRM). The DRM is in charge of one of the 68 divisions of the IR. The financial authority, as well as the power in handling tenders connected with works, stores procurement, to DRM’s, ensures that departmentalism is reduced – and there is accountability within the IR.

Fourth, is the issue of ensuring competition and liberalization in the railways sector. The committee has for specific reasons refrained from calling the liberalization of the railways sector as privatization or deregulation. Essentially the committee recommends and encourages open access to private players who want to operate trains on tracks. It is in line with what is practiced at present in some parts of Europe and Australia. Liberalization and open access also call for an independent regulator for the sector and the committee report recommends setting up the same statutorily with an independent budget. The regulator – Railway Regulatory Authority of India (RRAI) – for economic regulation, including, wherever necessary, tariff regulation.

Fifth, the report proposes progressively phasing out of the rail budget and merging the same with the general budget. It reflects the need to define clearly the relationship between the government and the IR. The recommendations also call for ending the system of paying dividends and reduction in the gross budgetary support carried out between the government and IR.

The recommendations of the report are timely and present a systematic road map to restructure the IR behemoth in specific and the railways sector in general. However, as with the previous committee reports much will depend upon the acceptance of the report and ultimately its implementation on the ground. One will have to wait and watch as to how the strategic restructuring in this critical sector unfolds over the next decade. It truly has the capability to have a transformative impact on the lives of India’s 1.2 billion people.

(IANS)

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Indian Railways to Introduce New Technology to Generate Power; Aims to Add 4 Lakh Berths

"Once the power cars are removed, they will be replaced with two additional AC-3 tier coaches, adding 130 berths," the official said

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"By adopting the HOG technology we will make way for more coaches," the official said, adding that it will also save Rs 6,000 crore in fuel bills annually," said the official. Wikimedia Commons

The Indian Railways which carries over 12 lakh passengers every day, aims to provide four lakh more berths for passengers every day from October when it will adopt the technology to generate power from the locomotives instead of the two power cars, railway officials said on Wednesday.

A senior Railway Ministry official related to the development told IANS: “Currently there are one or two power cars attached to the train with diesel generators to supply electricity connection to run the air conditioning units, fans and lights in the train coaches.”

The power cars are also called as End on Generation (EOG). The official said that from October onwards, the railways will introduce the new technology known as “Head on Generation” (HOG), which is currently used worldwide to generate power for the AC units, fans and lights in train coaches.

The official said with the HOG technology, the power to provide electric supply to the AC units, fans, lights from the overhead power lines and then is distributed to train coaches. According to the railway ministry officials, by October 2019, over 5,000 coaches of the Indian Railways will operate on the new technology.

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“Once the power cars are removed, they will be replaced with two additional AC-3 tier coaches, adding 130 berths,” the official said. Wikimedia Commons

“By adopting the HOG technology we will make way for more coaches,” the official said, adding that it will also save Rs 6,000 crore in fuel bills annually,” said the official.

He pointed out that a power car needs about 40 litres of diesel per hour per non-AC coach while an AC coach needs 65-70 litres of diesel per hour. The official also said the new system is eco-friendly as no air or noise pollution will be there and it will help in reducing carbon emissions by 700 MT per year per train.

The official said by removing one power car from the train, the railways can add a passenger coach in the train thus increasing the number of berths in the train without increasing the train length.

Giving the example of Rajdhani Express, the official said the Rajdhanis are currently hauled by a single locomotive with two diesel-powered generator cars at the rear to provide air conditioning and lighting within the train.

“After carrying out extensive tests, we have decided to remove the power cars. Power, obtained from the overhead cables through the pantograph of the lead engine, will be converted for providing air conditioning and lighting. This will be done through what in technical parlance is known as a hotel load converter,” he said.

“By doing so we can attach two more AC-3 tier coaches to the train,” he said. Rajdhani Express trains currently have 22 coaches with over 1,200 berths of various categories. “Once the power cars are removed, they will be replaced with two additional AC-3 tier coaches, adding 130 berths,” the official said.

Indian Railways
The official said by removing one power car from the train, the railways can add a passenger coach in the train thus increasing the number of berths in the train without increasing the train length. Wikimedia Commons

He said that once all LHB coaches are on this system, there will be an increase of more than four lakh berths everyday and thus additional revenue as well. The railways earlier this year tried to increase the speed and number of berths in Hazrat Nizamuddin-Mumbai Rajdhani Express by hauling it with two locomotives, one from front and the other at the rear.

The official said the trial run was approved on Feb 7 by the Research Design and Standard Organisation (RDSO). The pilot project led to the saving of over 105 minutes of travel time between New Delhi and Mumbai as it covered the 1,543 km in about than 17 hours from the previous 19 hours.

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The official pointed out that the push-and-pull technology, being tried out, is successfully adopted globally. This not only increases a train’s hauling capacity but also reduces jerks when the brakes are applied as the load gets equally distributed through all the coaches,” the official said.

A senior railway ministry official said the railways has last year experimented with twin-locomotives on the Rajdhani, with both engines in front. However, it was found that this did not make for a smooth ride. (IANS)