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Rail passengers travelling to the eastern parts of the country from the north were most affected by train delays in May, according to official data obtained by The Indian Express. The data show that of the 19,450 trains that failed to keep time from May 1 to May 30 across India, around 11,600 — or 59.64 per cent — were in Bihar’s East Central Railway, UP’s North Central Railway and North Eastern Railway, Kolkata-based Eastern Railway and the New Delhi-based Northern Railway. Over 80 per cent of these delays were due to causes within the control of Railways, such as failure of assets, track problems, operational glitches, and maintenance work, according to the records.
Even Rajdhani trains, which get priority of path, were affected by these delays, with their punctuality rate dipping 8.61 per cent to 78 per cent this April-May compared to the same period last year. Other prominent trains catering to the east and hit by these delays in April-May include:
*Shramjeevi Express, the popular superfast train connecting New Delhi to Rajgir in Bihar via Varanasi and Patna, was delayed by more than one hour some 22 days in May, clocking a punctuality rate of 4 per cent.
*Magadha Express, one of the oldest trains linking New Delhi to Islampur in Bihar, logged a near “zero percent” punctuality rate in May.
*Delays were witnessed this month, too, with the Northeast Express, connecting New Delhi to Guwahati via Bihar running 14 hours behind schedule on June 8. On the same day, the Anand Vihar-Bhagalpur Garib Rath Express ran 10 hours late.
Railway officials who spoke to The Indian Express on condition of anonymity said that these delays — often stretching to 15 hours — marked the “worst performance” by the Railways in recent years, excluding the fog-hit months of winter.
When contacted, Mohammad Jamshed, Railway Board Member (Traffic), said that east-bound trains were delayed due to speed restrictions caused “by “a lot of planned work” on tracks related to maintenance and augmentation of capacity.
“Trains, especially to eastern India, are getting delayed. That’s why our overall punctuality has taken a hit. But that’s mostly because a lot of planned work of doubling of lines as well as maintenance are going on for which trains have to run as slow as 20 km per hour at various stretches,” Jamshed said. “This pain is temporary as work on capacity augmentation and maintenance are necessary and cannot be taken up once the monsoon sets in,” he said.
The Railways lists 33 categories of reasons for delays, of which seven are outside its direct control, such as the alarm chain being pulled, protests on the tracks, bad weather, accidents, and “law and order”.
Data shows that in the 31 days of May, planned work accounted for only around 8 per cent of the delays while 10.22 per cent was due to track constraints, such as maintenance and safety-related speed restrictions. The use of alarm chains and “miscreant activities” together caused just 3.45 per cent of the delays, while issues related to signalling systems led to 6.45 per cent loss in punctuality.
“Then there are causes over which we have no control, like when the Maoists called a bandh in the Dhanbad division for 10 days. Security agencies advised us to run at reduced speeds in those areas. Once a train gets delayed, it has a rippling effect on all other trains, creating a loop of late trains,” Jamshed said.
In May, data shows, only 3.04 per cent trains lost punctuality due to law and order problems. The Railways’ official National Train Enquiry System lets users see train-running status of only up to two days, but records examined by The Indian Express show that the worst record during April-May was that of the Hajipur (Patna)-based East Central Railway, which services Bihar and Jharkhand. The punctuality rate, based on arrival data, fell to 50 per cent in April-May — in other words, every second Bihar-Jharkhand train was running late.
This marks a 13 per cent fall from the same period last year, and the sharpest decline recorded anywhere in the country, data shows. Even trains passing through this zone recorded a poor 56 per cent punctuality record. Data on other sectors in the east for April-May show:
*Kolkata-based Eastern Railway logged a punctuality rate of 69.8 per cent, marking a fall of 7.9 per cent compared to the same period last year.
*Gorakhpur-based North Eastern Railway, including Lucknow and Varanasi divisions, slipped by 7.9 per cent to clock 63 per cent punctuality.
*Guwahati-based Northeast Frontier Railway clocked 74 per cent, sliding 8.4 per cent from this period last year.
D K Gayen, general manager, East Central Railway, said, “Yes, there are delays. But whenever capacity augmentation work takes place, various speed restrictions come in because of which trains have to run at low speeds. It’s temporary. If you see, the situation has started getting back to normal in the past two-three weeks.”
According to Railway norms, a train that is up to 15 minutes delayed is considered on time. Beyond that, the punctuality parameters are divided into brackets of minutes: 16 to 30, 31 to 45 and 46 to 60. The last and most crucial segment is “more than an hour”, which is open-ended — it covers all trains that are delayed by more than an hour, even if the delay is of, say, 15 hours.