Context:

The recent rail accident near Khatauli station(UP) is a reminder of the dangers of the excessive over-utilisation of the lines.

Introduction:

  • Among the most affordable transport systems in the world, India’s railway network carries millions of people every day, linking the remotest destinations.
  • According to the latest data, utilization exceeds the capacity on 65 per cent of busy routes. It is 120 per cent to 150 per cent on 32 per cent of the routes, and utilisation exceeds 150 per cent on 9 per cent of the routes. For optimal performance, utilisation should be 80 to 90 per cent of the capacity.
  • Indian Railways has remained stuck at 130 km/hr since 1969, while congestion on the trunk routes sky-rocketed.
  • Over-utilisation is leaving little time for safety inspections and essential maintenance of track and other infrastructure as well as the rolling stock.

What is the significance of Indian Railways?

  • Railways and roadways are the two means of transport over the land. Roads can be built in the hilly areas also whereas railway lines cannot be laid easily.
  • The railways have advantage over the roadways that they can carry a large number of passengers and large and heavy loads to long distances.
  • Also journey by train is more comfortable than by bus or car especially for a long distance.
  • India has a large network of railways throughout the country. We have trains from one corner of India to the other corner.
  • Total length of the railway tracks in India is about 63000 kilometers. About 7800 trains carry about eleven million passengers to their destinations every day.
  • Our railway network is the largest in Asia and the second largest in the world.
  • Our goods trains transport about 6 lac tonnes of goods from one place to another daily.
  • Goods produced elsewhere, like vegetables and fruits not grown locally are made available through this reliable mode of transport, therefore its reliable.
  • This economical transport system enables the local growers to get adequate returns for the efforts from extended markets.
  • The freight charges are very reasonable therefore the cost factor added to these produce for transport do not increase the cost beyond reasonable limits.
  • In a country like India, people go thousands of miles away from their native village or town to earn their livelihood. Their only means of coming back during leave is the Railways.
  • Railways provide the cheapest and most convenient mode of passenger transport both for long distance and suburban traffic.
  • Railways have played a significant role in development and growth of industries.

What are the rising issues in Indian Railways?

Rising issues within railway system:

  • The Railway system is caught in a time warp, unable to scale up its services to global standards and hobbled by inefficient management.
  • The deterioration in passenger services has been repeatedly identified, it has only grown worse.
  • The report of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) on catering services for the year ended March 2016 provides further evidence that little has changed in the system.
  • Food is unsuitable for human consumption, contaminated and recycled items is being served, packaged articles past their use-by date, and unauthorized items are sold on trains, all endangering the health of passengers.
  • Gross violations are all the more blatant because the administration has instituted a mechanism to penalize agencies such as the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation and invites passengers to file complaints.
  • Evidently, instances such as a Rs.1 lakh fine levied on the IRCTC for the presence of a cockroach in food supplied on the Kolkata Rajdhani Express three years ago have not resulted in any significant reform.
  • Private sector participation in food supply provided any relief for the problems linked to departmental catering.

Operational inefficiency

  • The first and foremost reason for the Operational Inefficiency is being devoid of modernization.
  • The periodical diesel price hike has hit the railways hard.
  • This cannot be achieved without modernizing the railways with new generation high efficient components.
  • The Indian system is running with the kind of technologies which Europe and America scrapped off 20 years ago, although Indian Railways is carrying 30 times more passengers every year.

Why the number of accidents in Indian railways is rising?

Despite using the same infrastructure and rolling stock based on the same technologies for railways as many other countries are using and also with running trains at much lower speed in comparison, accidents in Indian railways are rising.

Following are some of the reasons for this:

  • Over-utilisation is leaving little time for safety inspections and essential maintenance of track and other infrastructure as well as the rolling stock.
  • The focus of Indian Railways has shifted to daily fire-fighting, to somehow keep trains running, leading to all sorts of maladies like inter-departmental tussles and low morale.
  • The Indian railway has one of the highest incidences of accidents due to material, equipment and human failures.
  • The last mile works are tough to execute, requiring immaculate planning and precise execution.
  • Blocks will be regularly needed for which some services may have to be diverted or curtailed temporarily.
  • As 40 per cent of Indian railway’s 1,219 line sections are utilized beyond 100 percent, according to Indian Railways, Lifeline of the Nation.
  • The congestion rate is even higher: It is 65 percent on 247 high density line sections of the Indian Railways network.
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