RE­CENT AC­CI­DENTS IN­DI­CATE A SE­RI­OUS FAIL­URE OF PRO­CESSES: FOR­MER MEM­BER TRAF­FIC OF THE RAIL­WAY BOARD SHANTI NARAIN

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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’

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