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Friday, August 07, 2020

Explained: What did it take for Indian Railways to achieve 100% punctuality?

The 100 per cent punctuality on July 1 has been achieved when the network is running just 230 passenger trains – along with about 3,000 loaded freight trains and 2,200 empty ones.

Written by Avishek G Dastidar , Edited by Explained Desk | New Delhi | Updated: July 4, 2020 10:16:13 am
indian railways, indian railways 100% punctuality, indian railways migrants, indian railways delays, indian express Migrants stand in a queue at Amritsar Railway Station to board a train to leave for their home states on Sunday, June 14, 2020. (PTI Photo)

The Indian Railways has announced that it achieved 100 per cent punctuality of its passenger trains on July 1, a never-before feat. Its previous best on-time performance, according to the Railways, was 99.54 per cent on June 23, when just one train got delayed.

“Trains in the Fast Lane: Enhancing services to unprecedented levels, Indian Railways made history on 1st July, 2020 by achieving 100% punctuality rate,” Minister for Railways Piyush Goyal posted on Twitter on Thursday (July 2).

Is this a big deal?

This is no mean achievement – it is indeed not an easy ask given all the constraints that the Railways usually face while running a train on its designated path and time slot.

It is important, however, to remember the context – very few trains are running now, and the punctuality of the Railways can hardly be compared with its own performance on this count in pre-Covid times, when it ran over 13,000 passenger trains and over 8,000 freight trains every day.

The 100 per cent punctuality on July 1 has been achieved when the network is running just 230 passenger trains – along with about 3,000 loaded freight trains and 2,200 empty ones.

The reasons that usually cause delays have been systematically eliminated, a spokesman for the Railways said. Also, trains that are delayed by up to 15 minutes are considered to have been on time, as per practice.

indian railways, indian railways 100% punctuality, indian railways migrants, indian railways delays, indian express Labourers resume routine maintenance work on a railway track near Santipur Railway Station in Nadia, Saturday, June 13, 2020. (PTI Photo)

Why do trains get delayed, anyway?

There are a number of reasons, which is also why the achievement of the Railways is significant.

There are unforeseen situations such as a failure of assets like the signalling system and overhead power equipment. Several types of breakdowns can occur, related to rolling stock, tracks, etc., that make a train lose time along the way.

Then there are external unforeseen problems like run-over cattle and humans, agitations on the tracks, and the like.

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And what have the Railways been doing right?

“The maintenance of tracks was carried out in a quick time during the Covid period in various critical sections, so the average speed increased, and stretches of slowing down were minimised,” the Railways spokesperson said.

“Better and modern signalling is also making an impact. Another reason is better planning and operations analysis.” He attributed this to better monitoring at the Division level, and said that the entire organisation at every level was focussed on this.

indian railways, indian railways 100% punctuality, indian railways migrants, indian railways delays, indian express An engine carrying a coach of a toy train runs from Kurseung to Siliguri for examination of the railway track, during the ongoing COVID-19 nationwide lockdown, in Siliguri, Tuesday, June 16, 2020. (PTI Photo)

How do the delays impact the overall system?

In normal times, these failures take away a lot of scheduled time when the train is detained even for a short time, because making up the lost time during the remainder of the journey is a tricky business.

It’s not as though a train can just run faster to make up for lost time. In a network chock-a-block with trains, a train hardly ever has such leeway built into its pre-set path.

Any train that gets delayed inordinately due to whatever reason during the journey theoretically eats into the “path” – or time slot allotted on the track – of another train. It then becomes a matter of which train to prioritise. Conventionally, Rajdhanis and premium trains get priority of path over ordinary mail/express trains.

Usually in railway operations, a train running on time, maintaining its schedule on its given path, is not disturbed to make space for a train that has suffered irredeemable delays along the way and is now hopelessly “out of path”, so to speak. Freight trains, whose runs are not exactly time-sensitive, are usually held up to make way for passenger trains.

But why do the Railways have to juggle operations in this way?

It’s a constantly dynamic scenario in which railway operations professionals take calls all the time.

At the heart of the problem is network capacity constraints. Which basically means that there are more trains than the network can handle in a given time bracket.

Around 60 per cent of all train traffic is on the Golden Quadrilateral, even though it represents just about 15 per cent of the total network. There are projects to enhance capacity by building additional lines and modernising signalling systems, etc.

The Railways are working on what is called a “zero-based timetable”. In this concept, which is to be introduced soon, every train that enters the network is justified based on needs and costs. It is expected to make train operations more seamless.

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