Safety, not new trains, top priority for Bansal

Tags: News

Amenities to get top billing in rail budget

Indian Railways, the world’s fourth largest network spanning 64,000 km, is at the crossroads today, facing ever-rising demand for new trains ahead of every annual budget. Pandering to this under political compulsions is virtually throttling the system already on the brink of collapse.

Railway officials, who did not want to be identified by name, complained that the government had been launching new tra-ins for the past 65 years without commensurate development of tracks, signals, rolling stock and other safety measures. Time has come to consider a two-to-three year moratorium before any new train is introduced.

“No railway minister has so far had the guts to do that. Every member of Parliament wants a railway station in his consti-tuency, with a train originating there,” a senior ra-ilway official said, adding that for years together, some 40-50 trains were introduced annually, with the result that the system is so clogged now, that no more new train can be introduced on major routes.

“The system is totally choked,” the official said, and insisted on the need for drastic action to focus scarce energy and resou-rces on maintenance, repair and improving rolling stock, tracks and safety measures.

It is to be seen if railway minister P K Bansal stands up to the pressure from members of Parliament and political parties to introduce new trains in this year’s rail budget, which he is scheduled to present on February 26.

Several representations have already been received for new trains. Indications are Bansal would keep it to the minimum.

Instead, the rail budget is expected to place a priority on improving safety and cleanliness. “Improving amenities in the railways will get top billing. Bio-toilets that have been successfully launched in new coaches over the past two years will be introduced in a phased manner in other trains. All old coaches are to be retrofitted with bio-toilets and sizeable funding is expected in the budget for this,” officials in the know said.

The railway network, pilloried for hauling excess capacity and inadequate safety, is one of the most dangerous systems worldwide. Bansal is expected to apportion substantial money for rail safety. There is severe shortage of staff in the railways. It has come to a stage when even taking out 100-200 persons from the system for training programmes has become very difficult, another railway official said.Instead of indulging in populism, the goal should be to provide better, bigger, faster and safer rail links to ease the chocked system.The quadrilateral rail link connecting the four metros of Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai and the two diagonals account for 16 per cent of the 64,000 km rail network, but carry 55 per cent of the freight traffic and nearly 60 per cent of passenger traffic.The railways have already embarked upon dedicated freight corridors connecting Delhi and Mumbai and Delhi and Kolkata. Five more such freight corridors are proposed for connecting Delhi-Chennai, Kolkata-Chennai, Kolkata-Mumbai, Chennai-Goa and Chennai-Bangaluru. Once these projects are completed over the next five to 10 years, existing tracks on the quadrilateral would be strengthened to run passenger trains at speeds of up to 200 km an hour. The rail budget would indicate how this would be taken forward.The budget is also expected to announce a rail fare authority and measures to push public-private partnership to speed up and fund new projects.


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