The issues of passenger safety in Indian Railways has always been a matter of debate. To address few of the key issues of safety, Rail Vikas Shivir (Rail Development Camp) was organised at Surajkund near Faridabad. It was intended to realise the objective of modernisation of railways. The experts from all over the globe were invited to share their views. The railway ministry has set a target of investing 8.5 lakh crores till 2019.
Objectives of the Rail Vikas Shivir
- Brainstorming over the issue of modernisation.
- Ensuring passenger safety and other essential services to make Indian Railways a lucrative mode of transportation.
- To invent pragmatic ways to secure upgradation of railways infrastructure and sources of revenue.
Challenges in Indian Railways
- Expansion of the railway, railway modernisation and safety.
- Improving the facilities provided to passengers such as quality food.
- Strict compliance of the schedule and minimisation of unnecessary delays.
- Effectively competing with the low cost airlines (LCA) especially after the promulgation of UDAN and new Civil Aviation Policy, 2015.
- Regaining the space of freight share that has been lost to the roadways due to inefficiencies and unprofessionalism.
Measures to improve Indian Railways
- The idea behind the merger of the railway budget and general budget is that the railway should be in the mainstream and imbibe a competitive spirit to raise its own resources by minimisation of costs. This would help in reducing the costs of up to Rs 10,000 crores for the Indian Railways that went through the channels of dividends to the Government of India against the loans and advances.
- A much needed devolution of powers at the level of divisional railway managers has been undertaken to ensure effective implementation of policies from the top-down and bottoms-up approach simultaneously
- International participation has been encouraged and saw the light of the day with South Korea showing keen interest to take up the redevelopment of New Delhi railway station. Similarly, the Bhopal railway station has been given to a private player for redevelopment. This participation of foreign players would help in materialising the PPP models with international standards of implementation.
- The digitisation of the railways is a good move by the railway ministry which is attracting the common man especially in the context of Indian economy moving into a cashless way. This move would also help in minimising the wasteful expenditure and loss of funds through embezzlement.
Problems in the Rail sector
- Liquidity crunch on part of the Railways to secure a safe mode of transport.
- Traffic load on tracks is on the rise due to new trains being introduced each year and no track renewal and expansion being undertaken.
- Undetected material defect and under stress leading to accidents.
- Inadequate maintenance of railway tracks and other equipment of safety.
- Inadequate training of the man power which leads to human error.
- Lack of funds also lead to inadequate expansion of Linke Hofmann Busch (LHB) LHB coaches which have better safety records. The coaches do not mount on each other and derail in the event of an accident.
- Laying of new rail lines is diverting productive funds that may have been used for ensuring railways safety technology otherwise.
- Replacement of the ICF coaches with LHB coaches.
- Depreciation Reserve Fund should be adequately financed.
- Manpower should be adequately trained to ensure minimum human error with special focus on spontaneity of the drivers and crisis management.
- There should be a mechanism to detect equipment failure. If there is any rail fracture, it should be immediately sensed so that the train can be controlled in advance.
- There is a need for ‘Automatic train control systems’ to ensure that if the signal is red the brakes apply automatically. It has been proposed in the past too but the work is still in progress.
- Elimination of level crossings and the replacement of it through Rail over Bridges (ROBs) and Rail Under Bridges (RUBs). Cooperation from the State Governments would be appreciated in this regard.
- Providing sensing equipment in the rail bogies to ensure better control of the bogies in the event of any mishap.
Railways is suffering from a severe disease of ‘cash crunch’. The railway network should be expanded and thereby bring in more passengers to travel through railways along with ensuring that the passenger fares are revised with due time. In the globalised world there is a need to prepare the Indian railways at par with international standards. This requires adoption of international standards of technology and professional expertise at the top. A lateral entry scheme for the Indian Railways could be open to invite specialised talent which can secure a better future for the common man’s mode of transport.
The initiatives taken by the Indian Railways are laudable but a lot needs to be done to curb corruption and mismanagement of railways which is existent in certain parts of the country. Railways have the potential to add 2% to the GDP of the economy and it requires to shed away its hat of extreme ‘populism’ and add an era of equilibrium of business approach and social welfare.