The Indian Railways has been in the news albeit for the price hike that it has announced. With the rapid increase in passenger and goods traffic, the frequency of train accidents is increasing at a rapid force. This has raised serious doubts in the public mind about the safety of rail travel and the general health of the railway network. The credibility of an organisation with a long and proud history of nation building has been seriously eroded. In such a situation, it is but natural to ask where the Railways are heading to. But we need to look at the population of India that is on the rise day-by-day. In such a case, the country needs infrastructure to support the population and the Railways is one without which you just cannot handle the current ever-rising population. Although our Railways is one of the slowest organisation of the World, yet it is one of the cheapest in the world. So even if the railways increase the prices of tickets, I just cannot see how the 125 crore Indians can live without railways because it’s ever expanding and connects almost all corners of India.
More and more trains are the need of the hour but sadly that is not possible on every route since there are a lot of freight operations and freights are the prime source of profit for the Railways. Obviously, the hike in fares might evoke sudden criticism people mocking the government by mentioning “Ache din aa gaye!”, we must also realise that there has been no major hike for about the last five years. Operating and maintenance costs have increased and a lot of other causes have forced the government to take such a decision. The railways are in shambles at the moment. The maintenance is very poor. Most of the stations are badly maintained, toilets are very bad and the food is just horrible. A very large overhaul might probably be needed to shake up things and turn things around. Hence, the hike is probably justified. In fact, the Indian Railways has one of the most subsidised fares in the world especially with the services.
The Indian Railways, eyeing to increase its revenue share, has decided to hike the fares of the passenger trains by one paise per kilometer, sleeper class fare by 2 paise per kilometre and for 3AC, 2AC and AC first class by four paise per kilometer. The Railway ministry issued an order on December 31 in which it said that while the suburban fares will remain unchanged, ordinary non-AC, non-suburban fares will be hiked by 1 paise per km of journey. The railways also announced a two paise/km hike in fares of mail/express non-AC trains and four paise/km hike in the fares of AC classes. The fare hike is also applicable to premium trains such as Shatabdi, Rajdhani and Duronto. Among the train coaches that are planned for CCTV installation in the first phase, tenders have been invited for as many as 7,020 coaches and a total of 6,100 railway stations. This should be done by next year, while the remaining coaches will be covered by March 2022.
Presently Indian Railways’ big move for a safer network is to introduce Artificial Intelligence and CCTV cameras in order to enhance the safety of passengers across the Indian Railways’ network. Soon, as many as 58,600 coaches in Mail/Express trains of Indian Railways will be equipped with CCTV surveillance system. The CCTV surveillance systems have already been installed at over 500 railway stations across the country. The matter of passenger safety was discussed in the Parliamentary Standing Committee recently. By March 2022, all railway stations across the country will be covered. Among the train coaches that are planned for CCTV installation in the first phase, tenders have been invited for as many as 7,020 coaches and a total of 6,100 railway stations. This should be done by next year, while the remaining coaches will be covered by March 2022.
The last fare revision was done in 2014-15. In order to expand passenger amenities and facilities at Railway stations and in trains, it has become imperative to increase the train fare marginally without over burdening any class of passengers. Fast modernisation of the Indian Railway will be achieved through this fare revision. All non-AC classes and the unreserved segment will see a 1 paisa per kilometre hike. On long-distance mail/express trains, the hike will be 2 paise per kilometre. The Railway ministry has decided to keep the fares of the suburban classes unchanged. According to the order, there will not be any change in the reservation fee and superfast charge. The increase in fare will be on tickets bought on or after 1 January 2020 and no excess fare (difference of fare) will be charged from passengers who have booked tickets before this date.
The hike will have no effect on the catering charges. After the fare hike, the journey from Delhi-Kolkata, which covers a distance of 1,447 km, the hike at the rate of 4 paise per km will be around ₹58 in AC classes on Rajdhani-type trains. Railways have played a significant role in development and growth of industries. Growth of textile industry in Mumbai, jute industry in areas surrounding Kolkata, coal industry in Jharkhand, etc is largely due to the development of railway networks in these areas. The railways help in supplying raw materials and other facilities to the factory sites and finished goods to the market. Agriculture also owes its growth to railways to a great extent. Now farmers can sell their agricultural produce to distant places and even sell them in the world market at remunerative prices. Railways are also helpful in removing isolation between cities and countryside and have played a significant role in disseminating innovations and new ideas. Railways are particularly suited to long distance journey and provide a strong medium of national integration. Also it plays a vital role in mitigating the sufferings of the people in the event of natural calamities like droughts, floods, famines, earthquakes, etc. This is done by carrying relief and rescue teams and essential items to the affected areas and save people from sufferings and starvation. Railways also help in facing man-made calamities like social, political, religious disturbances, insurgency, etc.
It facilitates easy movement of police, troops, defence equipment etc. The importance of railways to save the country’s freedom and integrity from external aggression has been proved on several occasions. The railways carry the British legacy and connect major ports to their hinterlands, thereby lending a helping hand to the overall prosperity of the coastal areas. The introduction of superfast trains and container services in major cities of India have ensured quick movement of men and material. The Railway system is especially suited to long haulage of bulky materials like coal, petroleum and ores. Although Indian Railways has progressed a lot both quantitatively and qualitatively during the last few years, this system is still plagued by a number of problems which require immediate attention. A lot has been done, but a lot more is yet to be done.
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