Amid the controversies over the critical financial health of the railways, one achievement has gone unnoticed: That the railways have laid more than 1,400km of new tracks in the past two years, against the earlier annual average of 180km. Railway Board member (engineering) AP Mishra — the man responsible for the achievement— spoke to Srinand Jha in an exclusive interview. Excerpts:
The network has been getting increasingly choked, particularly along the trunk routes. It is estimated that 3,000 new trains have been introduced in the past 10 years. Has track maintenance suffered because of this?
Our systems and schedule of track maintenance is quite uncompromising. Every kilometre of tracks is tested each day. Train movements are stopped for periods of four to six hours at times when maintenance work is undertaken. Because of the pressure on tracks, we are gradually moving to greater mechanisation in track maintenance.
Approximately 30,000 bridges that are over a 100 years old are still in operation. The condition of several of these is said to be precarious.
It is correct that — of the total of about one lakh bridges — approximately 30,000 are more than 100 years old. These bridges are still sturdy and
are have been maintained properly. Every bridge is thoroughly inspected once a year. Approximately R400 crore is spent on the rebuilding and repair of bridges each year.
Reports suggest a 25% shortage in the sanctioned posts of gangmen, who conduct a manual checking of the tracks. Do you think this makes a difference?
Eighty percent posts of gangmen will be filled up this year. And, as I said, we are moving towards greater mechanisation.
In the past two years, the railways have been able to lay approximately 700km of new tracks — against the earlier average of 180km a year. How have you been able to achieve this?
We have prioritised projects and undertaken construction on those lines that were possible to complete within the span of one financial year. Besides new lines, we have also completed several projects relating to doubling and gauge conversion. If these are to be counted, the railways have laid approximately 4,500km of tracks in the past two years.
The railways have a huge throw-forward of projects. What can be done to complete the pending projects?
It is a fact that the current throw-forward on pending projects totals Rs. 1, 47,000 crore. An investment of approximately R12,000 crore each year is needed to complete these projects. The Railways is seeking a special fund to complete the pending.