Budget Addresses Key Issues, Challenge is Implementation
A positive feature is that physical targets for 2016-17 have either been achieved or exceeded; there is great need for investment in safety
against 2,800 km in 2016-17. He also expects 10% increase in throughput capacity over the next three years.
A positive feature is that physical targets for 2016-17 in case of new lines, gauge conversion, and acquisition of rolling stock have been either achieved or exceeded.
An issue of major concern in recent months has been railway safety. There have been 94 consequential train accidents during the current financial year, marginally higher than last year. The number of accidents per million train trips continues at a level of about 0.11, which is better than many advanced railway systems. But these accidents have resulted in over 200 lives being lost. In this regard, the announcement for creating a ‘Rail Sanraksha Kosh (safety fund) of ₹ 1 lakh crore over the next five years is welcome.
There is a need for greater investment in safety, including timely replacement of overaged assets, introducing improved signalling systems, early introduction of the train collision avoidance system, coaches with anti-climbing features, improved systems for timely flaw detection in rails and wheels, and implementing recommendations of the Kakodkar committee, particularly with respect to creating Institutions for research. The minister mentioned elimination of unmanned level crossing gates by 2020 and seeking international assistance to improve safety systems of Indian Railways.
Another matter of concern is a shortfall in originating freight traffic, which was 53 million tonnes less than the target as of January 20, 2017, and 5.4 million tonnes less than the yearago period. This is compounded by a decline in lead of freight consignments to 563 km from 602 km last year. To be fair to the railways, decline in freight volumes is primarily due to a rigorous rationalisation scheme introduced in the linkages for movement of coal.
One must also keep in mind that transport is a ‘derived demand’ and freight traffic volumes are dependent to a great extent on economic growth.
The minister correctly identified the need for railways to provide end-to-end service to customers by integrating with logistics partners and catering to new commodities such as transportation of perishable goods.
From a passenger perspective, removal of service charge on reserved tickets should give some relief. The announcement that 25 stations will be taken up for redevelopment in 2017-18, all coaches shall be provided with bio toilets in the next few years, launching a single-window grievance handling mechanism for coaches, and the continuation of the cleanliness initiative should help in improving the quality of travel in trains.
There appears to be a good appreciation of problems being faced and where the solutions lie. The challenge is its implementation.
FM Jaitley correctly identified the need for railways to provide end-to-end services to customers by integrating with logistics partners