RECENT ACCIDENTS INDICATE A SERIOUS FAILURE OF PROCESSES: FORMER MEMBER TRAFFIC OF THE RAILWAY BOARD SHANTI NARAIN
Indian Railways is ushering into a new era with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe laying the foundation stone for the bullet train project between Ahmedabad and Mumbai. SHANTI NARAIN, Former Member Traffic of the Railway Board, talks to Shine Jacob about the project, safety aspects and future roadmap of railways. Edited Excerpts:
Construction of country's first bullet train project was inaugurated with much fanfare. Do you think it’s viable in Indian conditions?
The High Speed Rail Project has been in the pipeline for implementation for several decades. Besides the favourable financing terms the project has the following merits: It is a high-end proven technology that will bring extremely relevant technologies in the areas of civil construction, track and signaling equipment as well as rolling stock fit for very high speeds, which would have significant spin off benefits, in terms of upgradation of the overall operational and infrastructural systems on the existing Indian railways network. Safety enhancement technology would be another important component. Once Indian engineers and operators master this technology, India would be in the market of exporting high speed rail technology to developing countries in Africa and Asia with obvious strategic benefits.
What is your take on other such bullet train routes that are being planned?
This technology would provide a highly energyefficient alternative mode of transport to airlines for business travellers as well as foreign tourists. It would however make sense to confine this technology to short sections of upto 500 to 600 km with high density traffic movements and having predominantly business travelers for whom time is value for money. The section that would be eligible for this kind of technology could be Chennai-Bengaluru,Delhi-Amritsar and Hyderabad-Bengaluru, to name a few. For distances beyond 1,000 km, an overnight rail service operating at around 200 kilometres per hour would provide greater value for money. Illustrative sections could be Delhi-Bombay, Kolkata- Chennai and Delhi-Kolkata
What do you think should be the strategy to reinvent railways?
The current strategy of the Indian Railways for enhancing its transport capacity would have to be sustained over the next two decades. The increased investments allocated for Railways infrastructure by the present government would have to be sustained and further increased at an exponential rate to address the ill-effects of under investment over several decades in the past. The emphasis on allocating a large chunk of the available resources on line capacity enhancement works like doubling, tripling and quadrupling of congested routes and also freezing works which are unremunerative must be continued. Appointment of an independent Rail Tariff Regulatory Authority is urgently required to put the rail tariff policy on a sound economic footing.
What will be the role of dedicated freight corridor projects in the coming years?
In the area of enhancement of line capacity, the launch of Dedicated Freight Corridor (DFC) Projects is a game-changer. The two sanctioned DFC projects must be pursued vigorously and completed without any further time and cost overruns. Simultaneously, the other routes on the sides and diagonals of the Golden Quadrilateral, for which studies and surveys are already in progress, should be sanctioned so that over the next 15 years all these routes on the Golden Quadrilateral are covered with DFCs. This would generate enormous traffic capacity for both freight and passenger traffic. By diverting freight traffic to DFC (which are designed to run freight trains only at 100 kmph with an axleload of 25 tonnes axle-load) not only the average speeds of freight trains would nearly double, but introduction of additional passenger trains would also be possible on the released line capacity on the existing network. Simultaneously, this policy would contribute to enhancement of average speeds of passenger services as well. The net effect would be increased productivity of rolling stock assets of the railways — locomotives, wagons and coaches.
The number of accidents in railways are increasing considerably. What are the reasons for this and what should the government do to avoid this?
The recent spate of accidents does indicate certain disturbing concerns. While there were some very serious failures of processes and individual dereliction of duties, there also appears some systemic failures. If this is the case then the problem needs urgent resolution. It could be that due to inadequate allocation of funds in the Depreciation Reserve Fund (DRF), certain arrears in maintenance schedules may have developed. This was indicated in one recent Committee on Safety that had recommended a special Safety fund to be provided to attend to maintenance issues and related areas. Minister of Railways had also announced a provision of a safety fund of ~1 lakh crore to be utilised over the next five years to enhance safety. This action needs to be pursued without delay. To ensure that such emergency does not recur in future the first charge on the internal generation of resources should be for the fund requirements of DRF in full and no diversion of these funds should be permitted under any circumstances.
It needs to be appreciated that in terms of the absolute number of serious consequential accidents, there is an unmistakable downward trend over the past two decades.
‘Appointment of an independent Rail Tariff Regulatory Authority is urgently required’