RAILWAY BOARD Chairman Ashwani Lohani said on Sunday that the infrastructure required to handle increasing passenger traffic on the Indian Railways has not been adequately developed over the years. While new passenger trains are being introduced, he told journalists in Shimla, the time given for maintenance of assets, including tracks and trains, have reduced.
Speaking about the increase in the number of accidents on railway tracks in the past couple of years, he said, “While our railway traffic and passenger commute increased, the infrastructure to handle the same did not. It is easy to run trains or increase their frequency, but developing infrastructure to handle them is difficult. Earlier, to maintain tracks and signalling systems, the railways would get a corridor blocked for three to four hours. However, now, the frequency of trains has increased to such an extent that we cannot block the corridors.”
At present, the Indian Railways plies 22,000 trains between more than 7,000 railway stations.
Referring to last year’s stampede at Elphinstone Road station on the Western Railway, which claimed 23 lives, Lohani said the station was not equipped to handle increasing passenger traffic. To redress this issue, the Railways will now give top priority to safety in functioning, he said.
“Lessons have been learnt from what happened. Requirements at stations, including platforms and foot overbridges, are necessities more than amenities, and we are working to develop them in the coming days across Mumbai stations,” he said.
“We have decided that safety in the running of trains will be given the top most priority, which is why we will give adequate time to the maintenance of tracks. Though this may cause train services to be delayed…, there will be no compromises on ensuring safety. We will not encourage unsafe conditions in the working of trains,” he added.
The Indian Railways presently records 70 per cent punctuality in the operation of passenger train services across divisions, Lohani said.
“The railway staff used to be worried that if they asked for additional block time for maintenance of track assets, they would face suspension, as it comes at the cost of punctuality of the train services. However, now, a message has been sent across to our staff that they can detain or stop train services if they find it is unsafe to run them. This will eventually increase punctuality of train services,” he added.
Lohani also said the Railway Board was aiming to bring structural and cultural change to the staff. He said the Railways would only manufacture LHB coaches from April this year, eventually replacing all coaches made with old technology.
“In the past 70 years, we have been able to add only 15,000 kilometres of railway tracks, as compared to 55,000 kilometres of railway lines laid by the British till 1947. Within 25 years, all major metropolitan cities including Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata were linked through railways. If they could do it without the technology of today or adequate resources, why can’t we think like that? We could take lessons from the British in working with speed,” he added.
The Railways is trying to improve basic facilities, including passenger amenities, comfort, cleanliness at stations and punctuality of train services, he said. High-speed services, including the Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train, will bring a paradigm shift to the working of the Railways, he added.