Four years of Modi govt: Railways sees number of accidents dip but train punctuality hit
The railway ministry has seen three different ministers in the past four years but with incumbent Piyush Goyal taking charge last September, safety has become a priority with the public transporter reporting the least number of accidents, 73, in 2017-18.
Safety, efficiency, and infrastructure development have been the three biggest challenges for Indian Railways — even as one of the world’s largest employers tries to ensure that it can do all this profitably, but without hurting the common man too much. Thanks to a ‘Zero Accident’ policy, there has been a 63% reduction in fatalities from 152 in 2013-14 to 57 in 2017-18, according to the Railways. To reduce the number of accidents, massive upgradation work has been undertaken and there is a 50% increase in track renewal, from 2,926km in 2013-14 to 4,405km in 2017-18.
Railways is also going ahead with a project to modernise its signalling network. Signalling, Goyal said in a previous interaction, is one key aspect of improving safety. According to Railways, 5,469 unmanned level crossings have been eliminated in the last four years. The average pace of elimination is 20% more than that between 2009 and 2014, the organisation says. But the elimination of the remaining crossing is a challenge, as exemplified by recent accidents. The narrow gauge (track width 762mm or 610mm) exists mostly in hilly areas and train speed is very low, so Railways has no plan to eliminate unmanned crossings there. For the broad gauge (track width 1,676mm), which comprises 95% of the total track length, Railways targets to eliminate unmanned crossings by March 2020 but is likely to advance the deadline. The majority of the metre gauge (track width 1,000mm) is being converted into broad gauge. But punctuality of trains has taken a hit with almost 30% trains running late in 2017-18, the worst performance since 2010-11.
Other achievements include the high-speed corridor between Mumbai and Ahmedabad, or the bullet train project, which is expected to finish by 2022 and cut travel time from seven to three hours.
Another major step has been in increasing connectivity in the Northeast. With an investment of Rs 90,000 crore in the coming years, the Railways is hopeful of connecting the capitals of all the northeastern states by 2020. Currently, only the capitals of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, and Tripura are connected by rail.
According to a Railways official who asked not to be identified, the average speed of completion of new lines per year has tripled, from 21km between 2009-14 to 68km between 2014 and 2018. But a delay in the Dedicated Freight Corridors is resulting in congestion. “The major concern is railway is not growing. If you see the passenger figures of last four years, passenger traffic is stagnant. Because of delay of trains, railway is not a reliable mode of transport anymore. Safety is, of course, important but railway needs to find a balance,” said Vinoo Mathur, who retired as member (traffic), railway board, in 2008.
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