ndian Railways might have been criticised for many reasons, but one needs to appreciate the upgrades made in the recent era. It is not an isolated travel system of the nation. It included the highly poor, highly rich and so- called VIPs in its passengers from almost all regions of the nation. IR is the most preferred mode of transport for the lower and middle class and upper middle class. I personally like travelling in trains. It is the people’s car. But lower and middle-class people are not finding train journey comfortable due to different inconveniences. Last month, I was travelling to Solapur with my friends. We booked First AC tickets, assuming it would be safe to travel. My first horrible experience was the pillows and the blankets — those were provided had foul smell, bed bugs and most filthy in condition. The print on bed sheets indicated the date of printing is 2010, it means in the past eight years, same bed sheets are getting used; so think about pillow with yellow patches and blankets with a foul smell. Anyhow, I could sleep peacefully because I carry my bed sheets along. The washbasins were chocked, toilets had no tissue papers or soaps, sanitation just don’t ask! Somehow, with all these odds, I tried settling at around 2 am, there was some noise in the neighbouring cabin; what I learned is that the cell phones and purses of all the passengers were stolen — there was no security, no one was there to lock the common doors or passage. Someone managed to get in and flicked everything, I immediately tweeted this to Piyush Goyal and Railway police, and somehow, some cops entered the train in the next station but till today, there’s no development. As India is developing more and more, a lot of people are using 2AC and 3AC coach services to travel to various destinations. IR is presently forced to look into the AC class for revenues in terms of fare and cancellation charges, as it cannot increase general fares. But, they failed to upgrade basic amenities for passengers. As anyone who has ever travelled by train in India is more than aware, when one visits the lavatory, there is little between oneself and the rattling tracks below. I absolutely love railways, although I don’t spare to criticise a lot of its measures. However, the situation is much better than before — but it still needs a facelift and improvisation. The presence of the dustbin on every compartment of every bogie is important so that the tracks and coaches aren’t made dirty. Proper sanitation methods should be introduced. Public Announcement should be made before approaching stations so that if anyone somehow falls asleep or if the approaching station is at late night, he/she gets informed. The crowd management on railway station — we all know, how populated our country and our cities are, so we should plan our station accordingly so that crowd management can be done. More comfortable coaches should be introduced which can reduce the instability and movement of the trains, having good interiors, comfortable berths, washroom, and lightning and therefore, overall experience. Meanwhile, I really feel booking Tatkal tickets even after the split of the time window is still difficult and if we make a queue on PRS, one has to waste his whole day, because a Sleeper Class Tatkal option is available at 11 am. So, one literally has to miss half of his working day to get a ticket, which I feel ultimately will boost the black marketing. People without tickets, eunuchs, vendors boarding early morning, they all shouldn’t be allowed to access the trains as it is very disturbing and all the time one has to be conscious about their safety and luggage.
I know Indian Railways can never run as a profit-oriented organisation without changing the nature of the Indian Economy. When you have to serve 1.3 billion people, you will have to run the Railways as a social sector unit. Keep in mind that India is a country of massive, seasonal workforce migration. There is absolutely no way that passenger trains can be made profit making when these people cannot afford even a minimum price hike. The larger expenditure here involves the operation of unproductive railway lines. If profit were the sole motive, all of the North Eastern Railway in UP, NF Railway in Assam and EC Railway in Bihar would have to be shut down. Instead, these comprise more than 10,000 km of railway lines with some 2,000 odd stations. The expenses involved are truly mind-boggling. The British thought that Metre and Narrow Gauge lines were a way out of this quandary and they were probably right. But Project Unigauge has resulted in converting all these lines to Broad Gauge — for greater connectivity.
Railways are the third largest landowners in the country. This land can be leased out, depending on its character, to the builders and the farmers with the understanding that the lease may be terminated if needed by the Railways. Most of the railway staff quarters are in a dilapidated condition. Any residential construction project on railway land should have an understanding that 10 per cent of the capacity would be given out to the railways at a nominal rate. If IR can upgrade our tracks and introduce trains with good acceleration which at least run at 220-240 kmph, thereby reducing the transit time and therefore, eliminating sleeper options from a lot of trains and introduce sitting options, thus, increasing efficiency. If you have been to Hyderabad, Chennai, Mumbai, Kolkata, we have seen the EMU trains running around or plying to suburbs of those cities. One thing is to be noticed is that those trains have several stops, but when they run out of the stations, they pick up acceleration very fast. The reason is the presence of pantograph on every alternate bogie; thus, the power is evenly distributed on each bogie, and thus, the acceleration is quick. So at a high speed, long distance trains, we can introduce this idea first. It is not that Indian Railways cannot be upgraded, just that it has absolutely lacked in vision. The assets of the railways need constant repairs and all of the railways’ cash goes towards the same. The railways currently employs 1.4 million people. This is down from the 1.6 million it employed a decade ago. Add in the pension burden and you can imagine the costs this element incurs. The railways can reduce this by eliminating the posts of peons and clerks. No other Central Service provides servants to its officers and there is no reason why the railways should do so. The position of typists and clerks can be eliminated with faster computerisation. Again, PRS reservation clerks can be eliminated once higher-class tickets are made exclusively available on the Internet. The unreserved booking clerks can continue. The inner infrastructure needs a lot of change; just making promises is not enough.
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