Highlights from Newspaper

Beyond Vande Bharat: Indian Railway Performance

The Indian Railways has recently made headlines with the introduction of Vande Bharat trains in various parts of the country. However, the wider picture and significant concerns plaguing Indian Railways are being missed in the midst of the fanfare surrounding these new trains. The purpose of this article is to assess the performance of Indian Railways, particularly in the freight and passenger sectors, and to highlight the need for more relevant indicators.

Indian Railways’ performance and prospects, particularly in the goods and passenger sectors

Indian Railways Investment:

  • Since the Railway Budget was merged with the General Budget in 2017, there has been a shift towards increasing spending in the Indian Railways. The Railways Annual Plan budget has increased 137% from 1,09,935 crore in 2016-17 to 2,60,200 crore in the Budget for 2023-24. While this unprecedented level of investment is excellent, it must be translated into tangible progress towards capacity building rather than being limited to inputs.

Freight Sector:

  • Rail freight traffic share: The National Rail Plan 2030 (NRP) plans to increase rail freight traffic share relative to highways from 27% to 45% by 2050. However, for leads greater than 300 kilometres, the rail share of freight carried fell from 51.5% in 2008-09 to 32.4% in 2018-19.
  • Commodity diversification: Almost the entire increase in rail traffic volume from 2008-09 to 2018-19 has been in short lead traffic (leads up to 300 km), with 55% of the increase coming from the transport of only one commodity, namely coal. As of yet, there is no evidence of increased traffic levels occurring concurrently with commodity diversification or an increase in rail share relative to road transport.
  • Average speed of goods trains: The NRP seeks to improve the average speed of goods trains from 25 kmph to 50 kmph, which will increase efficiency and lower transportation costs.
  • Tariff rates for goods: The NRP also asks for a concomitant 30% drop in goods tariff rates.

Passenger Sector:

  • Punctuality is an important operational metric for passenger trains. While advertised punctuality statistics are frequently above 90%, these values are adjusted and only the destination arrival time is included, regardless of the fact that a train may have been late on route at all major intermediate stations. The Indian Railways should try to be within five minutes of the scheduled time (without any adjustments).

The requirement for an annual report

  • Report on the following themes from the yearly Economic Survey: The government should consider tabling an annual report on railway performance in Parliament, similar to the yearly Economic Survey published by the Finance Ministry prior to the General Budget.
  • Not only for publicity, but also as a resource for policymakers: Unlike the Indian Railways Year Book, this report should be an internal performance audit that serves as a significant resource for policymakers, serious students, and researchers in the subject of rail transport.

Way Forward

  • world punctuality standards: If stations in the Indian Railways network can be redesigned to world standards, perhaps it is time to aspire for international punctuality standards for trains as well.
  • Create a timeliness index: It is past time to abandon the old concept of destination punctuality and create a punctuality index that will additionally incorporate punctuality at select intermediate stops, at least for all mail/express trains.
  • Passenger experience: Rather of focusing on statistics, the goal should be to improve overall passenger experience.
  • Other areas that require evaluation include financial performance, physical performance, safety, organizational/human resource issues, project execution, customer relations, and the impact of dedicated goods corridors on Indian Railways system capacity.

@the end

The Indian Railways is the primary mode of transportation and the country’s greatest public undertaking, and its performance must be measured using appropriate criteria. While the introduction of Vande Bharat trains has been a success, it should not be the sole focus. The emphasis should be on enhancing overall passenger experience and freight sector performance, rather than just numbers.

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