The Indian Railways Revamp under Suresh Prabhu

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Indian Railways is one of the largest enterprise run and owned by the government that functions under Ministry of Railways. In this article we try to understand the progress made in the Indian railways under the railway minister Mr. Suresh Prabhakar Prabhu. Before going into the details let us understand the history of Indian railways.

Indian railways was formed in the year 1853. It is one of the largest railway networks in the world. It comprises of approximately 115,000 km (71,000 miles) of track over a route of 65,808 km (40,891 miles). It operates trains city on various gauge networks – broad, meter and narrow gauges.

It is interesting to note that in the year 1921, as per a report submitted by William Mitchell Acworth the then British railway economist who was the chairman of the committee on Indian Railways led to restructuring of Indian Railways. The committee recommended the separation of railway finances from the general government finances. This led to the creation of a separate Railway budget. This separation is still followed till date and a separate Railway budget is presented each year in parliament by the Railways minister which is telecast live on the national television. The first live telecast of railway budget was presented by Mr. Lalu Prasad Yadav in 1994.

 

Suresh Prabhu is the current Railway minister of India. He was born and brought up in state of Maharashtra, India. He is member of many national and international bodies on development and progress initiatives across globe. He was a part of the Shiv Sena till 2014 and was elected four times from the Rajapur constituency to the Lok Sabha in Maharashtra. He joined the BJP in November 2014 and presently is the member of the Rajya Sabha from Haryana. He has done consistently well as union minister in past also in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government.

Suresh Prabhu is considered to be a task master, he has held the Ministry of Railways for last two years and has presented two budgets. We will look into the initiatives taken by him to revamp Indian railways in last two years in this article.

The 2015 Indian Railway Initiatives undertaken by Suresh Prabhu –

  • The railway budget was present on 26-Feb-2015 in Parliament. The following were the key takeaways from the Budget:
  • In a bold decision this year in the railway budget no new trains were proposed. This was the first sign from him that he wants to do the things differently
  • The second bold decision was of no passenger fare hike in his budget although there was tremendous pressure on the revenue generated by railways.
  • Passengers were allowed to book tickets up to 120 days in advance which was previously 2 months (60 days) to give more comfort to passengers to plan their trips well in advance.
  • A new initiative called “Operation 5-minutes” was started to extend help to passengers in getting tickets within 5 minutes after entering a station. This was one of major decisions that was totally dependent on technology. With this implementation he showed that he wanted to change the traditional way of ticketing.
  • Another good decision was that SMS alerts for the arrivals and the departure of trains were introduced, keeping in mind that a lot passengers have mobile phones in India with the number of users increasing daily.
  • A centrally managed “Railway Display Network” was implemented that provided train information across the country.
  • Keeping the poor in mind he made a provision to add additional general-class coaches in the highly crowded selected trains
  • To improve the overall facilities across India 200 stations are finalized and were included under “Adarsh Station Scheme” to provide basic amenities such as drinking water, toilets, waiting rooms etc.
  • External hiring of professional cleaning agencies was implemented to keep stations and trains clean. This was implemented as part of “Swachh Rail Swachh Bharat” program, which has started showing results and been appreciated by the masses.
  • To improve the sanitation facilities 17,000 existing toilets on trains were planned to be replaced with bio-toilets adding to the existing 17,388 bio-toilets. In addition to this 650 railway stations were proposed to get new toilets to improve the facilities on stations.
  • Efficient implementation of 24/7 toll-free phone numbers facilities – 138 for the helpline and 182 for security issues was done to automate the inquires of train arrival and departure across the country.
  • Keeping in mind the potential increase in mobile usage over the years mobile phone battery charging facility was introduced in general-class coaches for the first time and plans increase more in the coming years was taken. Additional charging points in sleeper-class coaches were provisioned.
  • Technology usage was proposed to be maximized for travelers with ambitious plan to provide 400 railways stations which includes B-category stations with Wi-Fi facilities.
  • Proposed installation of CCTV cameras in selected trains and inside women’s coaches of suburban trains for safety of women passengers was proposed which was much appreciated. Once implemented this will be a benchmark for coming years in area of security and monitoring.
  • To match the standards of air lines in trains Shatabdi trains facilities were proposed to be scaled by providing on-board entertainment. This is yet to be fully implemented but once done will definitely add to the overall image building of the Indian Railways.
  • Collision detection systems of the trains were proposed on selected routes to detect train collision upfront, where there are huge traffic on the routes to minimize the human errors and increase safety of passengers.
  • To facilitate ease of complete trip planning, implementation was done to increase the number of stations from where passengers can pay both train and road tickets. This was done to avoid waste of time and at the same time improve the overall trip experience.
  • To increase the facilities now the trains from which passengers are travelling can order meals and disposable bedrolls at the time of booking of tickets.
  • Provision of booking wheelchairs for differently-abled and senior citizens were provisioned.
  • In the infrastructure improvement there was a target to add new track of approximately 1,38,000 km in next 5 years, which will be an overall increase of 10% in the existing tracks
  • Special emphasis was given to remove 3,000 unmanned railway crossings. In addition it was targeted to construct 917 over or under-bridges and to replace few of them that already exist.
  • Electrification of routes is targeted for around 6608 km.
  • A feasibility study and a report was to be submitted for the Mumbai-Ahmedabad route for readiness of bullet trains
  • To scale up the speed on the existing tracks it was planned to introduce 9 semi-high speed corridors with speed up to 200 km/hr. and provision to build carriages for such trains in India. In the next few months the test run is to happen on the Delhi-Mumbai route.
  • A major target of increasing connectivity in the North-East India and Jammu and Kashmir was planned which will improve connectivity not only with the other parts of the country but will also improve business and growth of this region.
  • Another technology implementation was started by introduction of barcode and RFID tracking of parcels and freight carriages
  • Satellite stations around 10 major stations are developed to reduce congestion on the stations
  • Introduction of four railway research centers in four selected universities
  • Plan to raise funds from the market via its two companies Indian Railway Finance Corporation (IRFC) and Rail Vikas Nigam Limited (RVNL) to improve the railways growth.

The 2016 Indian Railway Initiatives undertaken by Suresh Prabhu –

This year’s railway budget was presented by Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu in Parliament on 25-Feb-2016.

  • There are no fare hikes proposed this year. This year’s budget is based on three key strategies – Nav Arjan – New revenues generation, Nav Manak – New norms set, and Nav Sanrachna – New Structures created
  • The vision 2020 is to fulfill desires of common man. To provide reserved accommodation on demand in trains.
  • Goods or freight trains to be run based on time tables. This is done to improve the efficiency and performance. In addition it is targeted to provide better safety using high end technology, total elimination of all unmanned level crossings, improvement in regularity and punctuality of trains, increase in average speed of goods or freight trains, to run semi high speed trains along the golden quadrilateral and ambitious target to make zero direct discharge of human waste.
  • There will be changes in freights tariffs. This will be done to make them more competitive to the cost of transportation by road.
  • There is focus on cleanliness in this budget – 17,000 bio-vacuum toilets would be installed in different identified trains this year.
  • There is a proposal to build additional toilets in 475 stations
  • There is a plan to be implemented from 11-Mar-2016 onwards for requesting cleaning service via SMS under “Clean My Coach” programme.
  • Another new initiative in this budget has been introduction of travel insurance on offerings to passengers
  • Convenience and comfort is another area of focus in this budget. New SMART (Specially Modified Aesthetic Refreshing Travel) coaches will be introduced which are supposed to be bigger and come with automatic doors, entertainment and vending machines. Various FM radio stations are proposed to be called to provide entertainment services in selected stations. In addition to it a railway magazine, Rail Bandhu will be published in all regional languages and can be purchased by reserved passengers.
  • Special focus has been given for facilities for senior citizens, women and differently-abled people. The total number of lower berths reserved for senior citizens is increased by 50%. In addition, under the reserved category, 33% are kept for women travelers.
  • Setting up of two locomotive factories with proposal to increase the current procurement of train sets by 30%.
  • A 24-hour helpline for women travelers is also going to be started. In addition women travelling with infants will get baby food, milk and hot water and diaper changing facilities on trains and stations that are part of this initiative under “Janani Seva” project
  • Differently-abled persons can now register once online to get concessions. Special Braille-enabled coaches are expected to be introduced. Wheelchairs will also be allowed to be booked online upfront. All stations under the redevelopment scheme will be made more disabled-friendly.
  • There is a proposal for starting Antyodaya Express trains which is going to be completely unreserved Superfast Express class trains and will run on highly crowded routes.
  • Few additional unreserved coaches called “Deen Dayalu” will be added to long route trains. These coaches will have the facility of potable water and mobile charging points.
  • The Mahamana Express which runs between Delhi and Varanasi was introduced with upgraded coaches. This train is much appreciated by the masses.
  • Wi-Fi is already provided in 100 stations across Indian and additionally to be implemented in 400 more stations
  • Redevelopment of stations using PPP (Public Private Partnership)
  • Bringing transparency in recruitments online since 2015-16. Now onwards online announcements for all positions will be done. Social media will be used as a tool to bring in greater transparency. All procurement including procurement of works will be moved to the e-platform.
  • Humsafar – fully air-conditioned (for reserved passengers) third AC service with an optional service for meals is going to be started
  • Tejas trains will be starting point of progress for the future of train travel in India. This train will operate at speeds of 130 km/hr. and above. It will offer onboard services such as entertainment, local food, Wi-Fi, etc. through one service provider. This is done for ensuring accountability and improved customer satisfaction.
  • UDAY trains are overnight double-decker train and Utkrisht Double-Decker Air-conditioned Yatri Express on the busiest routes, will have the potential to improve passenger carrying capacity by around 40%.
  • Sale of tickets will be possible now through hand held devices or terminals. e- Ticketing facility to foreign debit/credit cards will be started. In addition bar coded tickets generation, scanners and access control will be started on a pilot basis.
  • In coming years 32 stations and 10 coaching depots are identified for starting of water recycling plants.
  • Ahmedabad to Mumbai high speed train being undertaken with the help of the Government of Japan. SPV for implementing high speed projects will be completed in the month of March-2016.
  • Rail Mitra Sewa which is expanding Sarathi Seva in Konkan Railway will help the old and disabled passengers. This will strengthen the existing services by enabling passengers to book – battery operated cars or porter services, etc. on a paid basis. This will be in addition to the pick-up & drop and wheel chair services.
  • Pilgrimage centres will have improved provision of passenger facilities and beautification at pilgrimage centres including Ajmer, Amritsar, Bihar Sharif, Chengannur, Dwarka, Gaya, Haridwar, Mathura, Nagapattinam, Nanded, Nasik, Pali, Parasnath, Puri, Tirupati, Vailankanni, Varanasi and Vasco to be started.
  • There is plan to tie up with the Ministry of Health and Indian Railways as part of an exchange between Government hospitals & Railways hospitals.

Even with these proposals it was observed that on the day of railway budget the stock market index fell down by 113 points. The stock values of companies in the railway sector also fell down. This looks to be a quick reaction but over the period of time with the implementation of above initiatives it is expected that the current situation will improve and Indian railways will be back on track with a competitive edge, better features and a promising future.

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