Thursday, June 28, 2007

Indian Railway- My Observations...

Perhaps there is no other organisation in our country that works with perfect synchronisation and zeal as the Railways does. Here professionalism is not measured in the sense of passenger satisfaction or expectations, but in the context of delivering the best out the limited resources that could be mustered.

Railways are not just a legacy of the British Raj, they are the part and parcel of the modern and vibrant India. Handling the Indian Railways is no mean task as the following statistics suggests,
  • Indian Railways are the largest employer in the world employing around 1.2 million people. (bigger than even the Indian Army, but second to combined forces of China's PLA*1!)
  • India has the fourth largest rail network in the world(around 64,000km track length*2)
  • India ranks first in terms of the number of passenger commuting through the rail network

So being the Union Minister for Railways is equivalent of being Minister for Northern Ireland (in UK) or Secretary of Health or Transportation in the US. Indian Railways is unique for the fact that unlike other PSUs, it has table its own budget in the Union Parliament and is part of Union exchequer(under the scrutiny of Public Accounts Committee of the Lok Sabha). In other words railways is government and government is railways. So there is little need for the railways to churn profits to its master.

Railways is also unique for the fact it doesn't publish annual account statement indicating profit or loss computation like most other corporate entities. Instead it assesses its performance on profit-Operating Cost ratio *3(currently around 78.5 i.e For every Rs.100 profit it has to shell out Rs.78.5 towards operations, one lowest in the world) and host of other revenue parameters. Thereby obfuscating the true picture of the Railways.

The truth is that the railways is heading for a bubble burst.This profit boom is not going to be sustainable in the future in the absence of infrastructure addition. Moreover the competition from low cost airlines ( air tickets are sometimes cheaper than First Class AC or Two Tier AC railway tickets*4!!) is bound to cause passenger migration to air travel. Moreover the high operating ratios are obtained by mere extension of existing trains.

For example, in the place of Tiruchirapalli- Bangalore night service, the train now operates between Myladurai-Mysore( my apologies to those who aren't sure of Tamil Nadu's geography). But cui bono? Off course there are passengers from Myladurai who wish travel to Mysore or Bangalore, but does it warrant a entire express of fifteen to twenty coaches to start from that place? I happen to board at Trichy and to my surprise most of the two tier berths were reserved for Trichy passengers. Worst still the First class coach travels empty most of time from Myladurai and gets filled only at Thanjavur or Trichy( this was admitted by a TTE himself). But for the railways it is a convenient arrangement as maintenance cost is reduced, operating margins improve in spite of empty berths and it can honour its social and political commitment of connecting far flung places on the railway maps.

And so we end up having express trains connecting wierd destinations like Nagercoil-Guwhati or Jammu Tawi- Kanyakumari( longest route in the country). One more added advantage of having such circumnavigating routes is that the exorbitant Tatkal fees can be levied. ( Tatkal or instant Tickets are generally booked for the entire length of the journey). In some long distance trains the tatkal fares for AC sleeper coaches for one leg of journey is costlier than even onward and return air journey combined!!

So the crucial question for the railways is to plan and build a network for the future India. The profits churned out during this period must be prudently employed for better passenger amenties, infrastructure addition and safety. One in which the best of service is offered at the least of cost. Railway stations must be modelled on par with air ports with best of rest rooms, cafeteria, shopping malls etc. One wise option is to go for fewer trains with better facilities. Security issues at trains (especially in Naxal prone States), food and hospitality services in trains can be made better for the price we pay. But before doing all these the railways must implement is that the loo in the train must be made a closed one (unlike the open on track loo).

P.S:When I was young I use to read the instruction inside the coach loo which states that "Avoid using the toilets at Stations". It's only later i realise the sad fact is that when using the loo at the stations, it becomes the job of the sanitary workers to clean the tracks and its a sordid spectacle to see the night soil from the platform. Moreover one must also consider the plight of lineman engaged in checking of tracks, connecting/ disconnecting coaches, locomotives etc..

Sources: [1] Anonymous blog accounts...identity yet to be ascertained

[2] Internalised fact ( read it about six years ago in my Std.X Geography text book)

[3] Internalised fact ( published in The Hindu)

[4] For example: Chennai Central- New Delhi Rajdhani Executive Tickets cost around

Rs.4325, while a Deccan Airways flight on the same sector starts from Rs. 3600.

1 comment:

Lovie said...

You write very well.