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Does Indian Railways need immediate reforms?

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Indian Railways is one of the largest railway networks in the world, which make it as the backbone in Indian Transportation by carrying more than 23 million travellers every day. But, due to the sheer size of the network and government control, the Indian Railways moving at a slow pace in terms of financial growth and quality of service. Though new initiatives like online training ticket booking(IRCTC), introduction of new superfast trains many transportation experts feel the sector must be reformed.

What is the market size of Indian Railways?

The Indian Railways is one of the biggest railway networks in the world. Currently, the Indian Railways route length network is spread over 115,000 km. Around 12,617 passenger trains and 7,421 freight trains are run every day 3 million tonnes (MT) of freight daily. For the sheer size of the network, India's railway network is often considered as one of the largest railway systems which is run under a single management control. Indian Railways’ revenues have increased at a growth is around 9.66 per cent during 2017-18 to US$ 27.71 billion in 2018. Earnings from the passenger business grew at a growth of 9.90 per cent during 2017-18 to reach US$ 7.55 billion in 2017-18. In terms of freight revenue rose at a growth rate of 9.83 per cent during 2017-18 to reach US$ 18.16 billion in 2017-18. Often considered as the ideal for long-distance travel, Indian Railways are a reliable partner in the movement of large and bulky commodities due to the fact that it is an energy efficient and economic mode of transport. For major industries and leading automobiles, Indian Railways were the preferred carrier in the country

Challenges in Indian Railways

Lack of safety

Nearly, 53 per cent of the 586 train accidents in the last five years were mainly due to derailments. According to a study by NITI Aayog, six of every 10 rail accidents in India have happened because of mistakes by or the negligence of railway staff, since 2012. In the financial year 2017, 66 of 104 consequential rail accidents were attributed to failure of railway staff according to Indian Railways data. Several railway accidents are often attributed to failure of railway staff. Three top Indian Railways officials were ordered to go on leave and three more suspended after a report on the Kalinga-Utkal Express accident declared that around two dozen deaths blamed the negligence of railway staff alone.

Poor infrastructure

The total length of railway tracks is 1,14,907 km. Around 4,500 km should be renewed annually. But 5,000 km of track length due for renewal currently, only 2,700 km of track length was targeted to be renewed. A poor track maintenance, including lack of proper fittings and ballast, causes rail fractures. Many railway experts have pointed out more safety features, implementing absorb shock, strong stainless steel structures could prevent derailment effectively. With lack of proper funds, Indian Railways are unable to upgrade its old assets.

Shortage of staff

Railway employees union points out that there is a 16% shortage in safety staff. According to unofficial estimates, a total number of vacancies in safety staff are around 124,201. And this number has been growing steadily over several decades. Besides, workers also point out that due to vacancies, they are made to work from 12-16 hours a day. Many loco engine drivers have no toilets, lunch breaks and no seats inside engine rooms.

Are the government initiatives enough?

More is needed to be done. With aim to integrate, rail network with other modes of transport and develop a multi-modal transportation network, the Government of India is going to come up with a ‘National Rail Plan’ which will enable the country to integrate its A 'New Online Vendor Registration System'. This system will be launched by the Research Designs & Standards Organisation (RDSO). Besides, Indian Railways are targeting to increase its freight traffic to 3.3 billion tonnes by 2030 from 1.1 billion tonnes in 2017.

In an effort to implement high speed trains projects, the Government of India has signed an agreement with the Government of Japan under which the Japan will help India in the implementation of the Mumbai-Ahmedabad high speed rail corridor along with a financial assistance that would cover 81 percent of the total project cost. This project is important as Speed Rail Corridor will have 35 trains with one executive coach and nine general coaches by 2023. According to the report, the total number of coaches in each train would increase to 15 by 2033 to accommodate additional passenger traffic. While there would be 750 seats in a 10-coach train, the 15-coach one will have 1,250 seats. The entire project of the 508-km Mumbai-Ahmedabad High-Speed Rail Project will entail an estimated cost of Rs. 1,10,000 crore. To enhance transparency in the processing and settlement of bills, Indian Railways has come up with a new bill tracking system for contractors/vendors of Indian Railways to track status of their bills. For the first time in the history of Indian Railways, with the aim of boosting connectivity out of the country between India and Bangladesh, the national transport system has launched various connectivity projects including a new passenger train service between Kolkata and Khulna. Finally, Indian Railways is planning to invest in order to adopt European Train Control Systems (ETCS) which will help in the development of the infrastructural facilities is highly welcomed.

Conclusion

According to official estimates, the Indian Railway network is growing at a good place. It is projected that for the next five years, the Indian railway market will become the third largest (accounting for 10 per cent of the global market). But if the projections and forecasted must be achieved, then reforms must be taken immediately.

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