Author: Shankar Dev
Today Google is celebrating 160 years of India’s first passenger train journey by making a special doodle in its home page. In the first railway passenger journey in India three steam locomotives, Sultan, Sindh and Sahib, took 400 invited passengers in 14 carriages on a 57 minute journey that had one halt. Started by the British in 1853 and initially run by independent companies, the railway network was later taken over by the government and grew rapidly, covering 9,000 km by 1880. Later, the system bequeathed to a newly independent India and was maintained as a state-run organisation. Today, Indian Railways(IR) employs 1.54 million people and traverses 63,000 km. I hope Railways is the only sector which flourished and benefitted from the colonisation, I say this because the railway administration of independent India is running really Pathetic.Though it serves a better affordability, when compared with contemporary developing nations, it is also one of the dangerous train system in the world which causing 2500 death per year. Even with increase in revenue from passenger travel and freight transport, development is lagging behind. With its huge assets and resources, one of the richest department in the country and world, yet it suffers loss of 25000 crores every year. These paradoxical disorders are, result of mismanagement, operational inefficiency, political interference, employee unions, corruption etc.
The first and foremost reason for the Operational Inefficiency is – being devoid of modernisation. The periodical diesel price hike has hit the railways hard. For running its fleet of around 4,500 diesel locomotives, the Indian Railways spends nearly Rs 11,000 crore per year, constituting nearly 15 per cent of the railway’s annual working expenses. Now (with recent diesel hike) it is facing with an additional expenditure of around Rs 1,200 crore per year. A reduction of 10 per- cent of diesel oil consumption can result in a saving Rs 1,000 crore a year. This cannot be achieved without modernising the railways with new generation high efficient components. The Indian system is running with the kind of technologies which Europe and America scrapped off – 20yrs ago, although IR is carrying 30 times more passengers every year.
IR can reduce its fuel bill by improving the fuel efficiency of its locomotives. There are several ways in which this could be achieved. The railways in other countries have been upgrading technologies to improve energy efficiency such as:
Upgrading to more usage of modern rolling stock with lower energy consumption.
Introducing regenerative braking — a system that harnesses the energy produced during braking, transferring it back to the power supply grid, and thereby allowing other trains to use it. Currently IR had deployed it in Mumbai suburban trains.
Also by reducing carbon footprints and cashing on the carbon credits earned can bring in further financial benefits for the railways- Almost two years ago, IR initiated a programme to cut down carbon consumption by distributing around 14 lakh compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) in its residential colonies, paving the way to earn over one lakh carbon credits each year.
By reducing diesel consumption- Stepping up to liquefied natural gas , CNG on a large scale, so as to reduce consumption of diesel oil. It is currently dependent on refined petroleum products such as high speed diesel oil for locomotives and furnace oil in its workshops and factories.
In 2011-12, its revenue from freight services (Rs 69,547 crore), had accounted for nearly two-third of the gross railway revenue (Rs 104,153 crore). The freight business of the Indian Railways has been the mainstay of its revenues, and helped it in partly subsidising the passenger segment, because of public and political pressures, the fares cannot always be raised to cover the cost of operations. So the railways kept increasing the freight charges, which led to inflation and on the other hand it lost its edge over road transport.The road which has inherent advantages of being more penetrative than rail services, providing door-to-door delivery of consignments, and having a greater flexibility of operations.
However, the economic and environmental benefits of railways are becoming increasingly favouring the frieght. As railroads are, on average, three or four times more fuel efficient than trucks and every ton-mile of freight that moves by rail instead of trucks reduces green house gas emissions by two-third or more. This opens up a window of opportunity to the railways to draw out the best from its assets and make the freight business not only highly productive and competitive but also to help in maximising its profits. Recent announcement of DFC can fulfil a part of the above said objectives.
Implementation of the Dedicated Freight Corridor (DFC) project is expected to generate two major impacts on the freight movement:
- Shift of freight from road to the low carbon intensive rail transport
- Improvement in energy efficiency through adoption of improved technologies.
- Easing the handling of goods- attract freight.
But unfortunately DFC is stagnant at various stages due to political and economical reasons.
Given the magnitude of the network and the passengers it carries every day, little augmentation of safety procedures has been made. The absence of composite and workable safety mechanism in one of world’s largest railway systems is now more glaring than ever before. It is out of tune with modern, easily available technology that could prevent or at least minimise deaths of passengers. In last week alone 4 fire accidents have been reported, costing 2 lives and leaving 14 injured. Even next week another train will catch fire in some other region. To this day, 17,000 unmanned railway crossings exist that are said to cause nearly 70 per cent of the fatalities. A special £2.5-billion railway safety fund has been set up to introduce safety measures, but this money remains ineffectually used.
The 2013 railway budget announced, introduction of much hyped and expensive Train Protection Warning System (TPWS) on automatic signalling systems. It offers protection function with high design integrity, however it does not provide significant enhancement to line capacity. Moreover, TPWS is a warning system, not a protection system. It has malfunctioned in the past. Experts feel that the TPWS can function effectively only if the driver’s cabin is air-conditioned. They pointed out that the TPWS that follows a European design was a misfit in India, indicates lack of its tropicalisation and customization to Indian conditions. However, the government has once again ignored the indigenous & cost-effective anti-collision device (ACD) system developed by the Konkan Railway and has instead opted for an expensive foreign technology.
The TPWS is estimated to cost Rs70 lakh per km, and will be implemented over an 828-km rail stretch. The total cost for installing the TPWS would be about Rs579.60 crore. On the other hand, the ACD will provide a more efficient and cheaper overall protection against collisions. ACD, which is a no-signal equipment, has superior wide-area safety-enhancing capability, while costing much less individually. TPWS is not only expensive, but also less efficient compared to the ACD system. Even a brainless creature would definitely opt only for a cheap and efficient system but why the govt chose otherwise….continue reading.
The greatest curse for a democracy is the coalition government as our honorable PM puts it, it is not that easy to manage a coalition government & ease its partners. So the major ruling party is ready to conduct any level of task in order to appease their coalition partners. The saddest part is that Railway is the most vulnerable to this coalition dharma, unsurprisingly it has a major impact on both performance and administration of railways.
Regional leaders who had served as railway ministers during successive coalition governments had used their budgets to pander to their localised political constituencies, announcing projects that had little economic or commercial viability.
Introduction of Train Protection Warning System (TPWS) on automatic signalling systems in the latest rail budget had really surprised experts, since a high-level rail safety review committee headed by former Atomic Energy Commission chairman Anil Kakodkar had trashed the TPWS about a year ago.
In its report, the Kakodkar panel had pointed out that the TPWS was not working well under Indian Railway conditions. It cited the outcome of the TPWS trial on the Chennai Central-Gummidipoondi section since 2009, to prove its point. In its report submitted to then Railway Minister Dinesh Trivedi on February 12, 2012, the panel had said: “This system, based on proven European design, is not working well under Indian Railway conditions. This was observed during the committee members visit, when the motormen operating on Chennai suburban complained of false braking, system problems, etc.” But UPA was still adamant in implementing the failed system, should have its ground on political gain or favourtism.
The Train Protection Warning System (TPWS), is implemented by the Union Switch & Signal (US&S) India, a subsidiary of Ansaldo Signal. It smells fishy when you come to know that, this Ansaldo Signal is infact a subsidiary of Giuseppe Orsi’sFinmeccanica- the same gentlemen who paid 360cr kickbacks for procurement of Augesta Westland’s VVIP choppers ( to know click me). Though Finmeccanica has a shady track record, UPA was very keen in signing next contract with it. While most officials are not keen on the system, which has been found to be unfit for railway conditions in India, the company is still having a free run in Southern Railway sectors. One can very well assume the drama that would have happened behind the curtains.
Unless favoritism is curtailed, the fate of railways will prevail as such. At the political level, the portfolio of the Railways should not be treated as a tradable commodity in the coalition politics and the Prime Minister should ensure that the minister who is given charge of the railways is capable of delivering, instead of devoting his time and energies to partisan politics. The involvement of the PMO, the minister for railways, other Ministers of State, the Railway Board and the chief ministers of the states is a must for developing a railway safety ethic as a national priority. The government can also consider designating one of the Ministers of State as minister for rail safety.
In other ways it can be placed under a constitutionally mandated Indian Railway Commission and managed by professional hands without interference by politicians. The role of the political executive should be confined to policy-making and they should not be involved in operational decision.
Profit and Service:
The public entities like Railways cannot be run purely in profit grounds. So something has to be done, but the only way of increasing productivity without increasing fares is Resource mobilization.
The railways has been experimenting with new models of Public-Private-Partnership (PPP) for financing its projects for past many years, but has been dogged by poor and unimaginative marketing strategies. Though some steps are being taken like – R3i (Railway Infrastructure Investment Initiative) policy aimed at attracting private sector participation, the response remains lukewarm. The main reason should be the hegemony and monopoly of govt.
Now railways did some introspection and realised that the complex procedures and legal framework within which the Public-Private-Partnership projects are required to operate in railways have not been able to incentivise the private sector in participating in such projects. The procedures show a distinct bias towards the railways, leading to the perception that the PPP partners are not treated as equals. In the container train operations, for instance, which the railways claim to be its major PPP initiative, private players are not happy since they feel that there is no level playing field for them and the railways have been denying them their fair share in the venture. They complain of unreasonably high fees for use of terminals built on railway land, and of the differential haulage rates, which has cut into their profit margins. Moreover, frequent changes in the haulage charges and other terms and conditions make it difficult for private players to enter into long-term commitments given to their clients. This feeling of uncertainty is not conducive to a healthy business climate.
It is essential to create a proper PPP enabling environment with streamlined procedures and a right mix of fiscal incentives and risk mitigation measures to attract private sector to participate in infrastructure projects. Setting up of an independent regulatory body that can enforce contracts, settle disputes and resolve the conflict of interest between railways and private players can help in winning the latter’s confidence.
The Planning Commission estimates that private investment mobilisation in the railways in the Eleventh Plan is likely to be only 4 per cent of the Plan outlay. This is far less than the private capital share in other sectors, such as ports 80 per cent, airports 64 per cent and roads 16 per cent. Large funds are required for investment in new projects in the Twelfth Plan period. These cannot be mobilised through budgetary support and market borrowings alone, and PPP projects can provide a shot in the arm. However, unless there is a major policy shift and railways shed its baggage of past ideology, it is unlikely that this shortfall can be met from PPP projects.
On the other-side, parliamentary panel recently observed that the railways, because of the long gestation period and relatively low returns, should not bank too heavily on the PPP route but instead explore other avenues for resource generation. These are valid observations, because PPP cannot be taken as the ultimate funding solution. Indeed, reliance on private participation does not diminish the role of the government in providing the resources and leadership necessary to build, operate and maintain sustainable public infrastructure.
It is, therefore, imperative that the govt re-draws its strategy for railways, thus paving way for a gradual improvement in its operating ratio, reflecting the percentage of total working expenses to gross earnings, giving passenger safety the top priority.
While presenting 2013 budget, Minister cherished to say that IR had entered the billionares club in world, competing with US and China. However, common man will not be swayed by such self-congratulatory statements as he is living in the reality. By taking account of Minister’s speech, I remember the saying – “operation success, but patient died!!