Suresh Prabhu : Invigorating the lifeline of India ““ Indian Railways

Covering a route length of over 66,000 km and a track length of about 115,000 km, Indian Railways comprises of over 7100 railway stations and carries more than 2.3 crore passengers every day. Indian Railways operates 21,000 freight and passenger trains per day and transports about 1100 Million Tonnes of freight per year, and is rightly called the “˜lifeline of the nation”. Despite being such a massive organisation, the railways has widely been used as a political tool and been neglected by successive governments, leading to massive under-investment, loss of revenue, pathetic quality of service, poor operating ratio and a burden on the existing infrastructure.

In 2014, Narendra Modi came to power with a massive mandate for development and improving the infrastructure. Suresh Prabhu was appointed the Minister of Railways and since then, there has been no looking back. In what can be considered as a marked departure from the norm, the first railway budget presented by Shri Suresh Prabhu was “Visionary” and laid the foundation of the great work that was to follow. For the first time in Railways, an apolitical budget was presented with a focus on revamping the infrastructure, expansion of railway network, electrification, increase in efficiency, improvement in the service and introduction of High speed trains. Here, let us have a look at the notable achievements of Ministry of Railways under the leadership of Shri Suresh Prabhu Ji and how Railways have embarked on a “transformative journey”.

  1. Grievance Redressal and Cleanliness :
    The most visible change that has occurred in the railways and has positively affected the travellers is the online grievance redressal, where every type of problem can be promptly resolved by a single tweet to @RailMinIndia or by calling 182. Lakhs of passengers have benefited immensely from this initiative. Indian Railways is one of the departments that has executed the “˜Swachha Bharat Abhiyan”™ impeccably, with extremely clean stations and coaches courtesy 336 cleaning contracts and 354 onboard housekeeping services.
  2. Boost in infrastructure :
    Indian Railways has invested about Rs. 100,000 crore and has planned to invest Rs. 900,000 crore in the next five years to boost infrastructure, which include laying new tracks, doubling of single lines, tripling and quadrupling of busy double line sections, electrification of diesel routes and upgradation of technology in various fields. In the last year, Indian Railways commissioned about 2000 km route of new railway lines, which was the highest ever in the history of India, almost double of what was laid per year during 2009-2014. In 2015, IR electrified 1375 km of route, doubled 723 km route and did the gauge conversion of 880 km of route ““ all of them highest ever in the history. LIC (Life Insurance Corporation of India) has promised an investment of Rs. 150,000 crore over the next 5 years.
  3. Wi-Fi :
    In partnership with Google, Indian Railways has embarked on an ambitious plan to provide free wi-fi on more than 400 railway stations of India. As of now, most of the major stations already have this high speed free wifi facility. As per Sundar Pichai, the CEO of Google, more than 20 lakh people are using this facility per month !
  4. Ticketing Reforms:
    This was one of the first and much needed steps taken by the Ministry of Railways after the formation of Modi government. The number of tickets that can be booked per minute on the IRCTC website was increased from 7200 per minute to 15,000 per minute. Various measures such as auditing, technological reforms and new policies regarding online booking has made the ticketing extremely efficient and almost put an end to the fraud that existed in this sector. Also, 2150 new ticket counters were established by Indian Railways and the facility of mobile unreserved tickets for the suburban sections was a boon for suburban travellers, who comprise almost 50% of the total passengers carried by Indian Railways.
  5. High Speed Trains:
    The new bullet train project between Ahmedabad and Mumbai was announced, which will be financed by Japan at a very low interest rate. The bullet train will cover the distance in less than 2 hours and will cost about Rs.3300 per person one way. Also, the semi high speed trials involving Talgo trains of Spain in Delhi- Mathura section at 180 km/hr was successfully conducted .The trials in New Delhi-Mumbai section is soon going to take place and is expected to take less than 12 hours. India”™s first semi high-speed train Gatiman Express was launched which runs at a speed of 160 km/hr between Delhi and Agra.
  6. Passenger Facilities :
    Indian Railways has started 30,190 special trains. 250 trains will be converted to 24-coacher trains while 5 trains are being planned to be converted to 26 coacher trains. Overall, IR has augmented 100,795 coaches on a temporary basis and about 600 coaches on permanent basis, which is likely to increase the passenger carrying capacity of IR by 12 lakh passengers per year. Due to traffic auditing of various key routes such as Delhi-Kanpur-Mughalsarai, the efficiency and punctuality of the trains have increased to more than 85%. Also, water vending machines have been installed on various stations which dispense a glass of water at Rs.1. IR will be installing 12,000 such water vending machines by 2019 to provide cheap high-quality drinking water to its passengers. To enhance the comforts and convenience while travelling, newly designed Deendayalu coaches for general class, Hamsafar coaches for 3AC and specially designed Mahamana express coaches have been commissioned by Indian Railways in last one year. 
  1. Diamond Quadrilateral :
    Indian Railways is planning to connect the four metro cities of India with high speed railway network. Apart from Diamond Quadrilateral, 9 important routes have been identified for semi high-speed. The feasibility study on all these earmarked routes have been started by various countries which are pioneers in High speed trains, such as France, China and Japan.
  2. Safety at Level Crossings :
    Indian Railways, in a meeting today, chalked out an ambitious plan to eliminate all the UMLC (Unmanned Level Crossings) by 2018 and make India UMLC free. 24,501 UMLCs have been eliminated in last 2 years. 6352 UMLCs on Broad Gauge routes to be eliminated in next 2 years with an investment of ₹ 7500 crore. All the Railway crossings on National Highways and State Highways to be converted to Flyover/Underpass to eliminate the concept of Railway crossing on major road routes. This work to be done in cooperation with State Govt and Ministry of Road Transport. 4326 Gate mitras have been appointed on UMLCs on a temporary basis to help drivers safely cross a railway crossing. Almost 20,000 people die every year because of accidents at Railway crossings. Approx 70% of the deaths involving a train accident occurs at Railway crossing.
  3. Dedicated Freight Corridor:
    The Ministry of Railways is constructing Dedicated Freight Corridors, which will be exclusively dedicated for the movement of freight trains. The five dedicated freight corridors of total route length 8600 kilometre that are coming up are EDFC (Eastern dedicated freight corridor), from Dankuni (Kolkata) to Ludhiana – 1850 kilometre ; WDFC (Western dedicated freight corridor) from JLN Port Mumbai to Tughlakabad – 1450 kilometre ; North-South Freight Corridor, from Chennai to New Delhi – 2200 km ; East-West Freight corridor, from Kharagpur to Mumbai – 2000 km ; and East Coast dedicated freight corridor, from Kharagpur to Vijaywada – 1100 km.
    Among the 5, work on first two are already going on and are in the later stages of construction, while the other 3 have been sanctioned this year in Rail Budget on a “PRIORITY BASIS”. It will increase the CAPACITY and EFFICIENCY of passenger movements. It is expected that once DFC is operationalized, it will put an end to delays, increase the passenger carrying capacity by almost 40% and increase the average speed of passenger trains by 10-15 km/hr. It will increase the average speed of freight movement in the country from 25 km/hr to 70 km/hr (almost 200% increase). The operationalization of DFC will cut down the freight cost by half and will make sending goods by railways much cheaper, bringing down costs, improving ease of transporting which in turn will create more industries in the corridor, thereby providing much needed jobs to the state of Bihar, UP, Jharkhand and West Bengal coming up at an amazing pace and is expected to be completed in a few years. 
  1. Manufacturing :
    Indian Railways has given a green signal to the Electric locomotive plant at Madhepura and diesel locomotive plant at Marhowra ““ both in Bihar. Apart from producing world class diesel and electric locomotives, it will provide a huge number of jobs. Also, new manufacturing units at Haldia and Bela are being established by the Ministry of Railways. 
  1. Connectivity to Northeast and Kashmir:
    For the first time in the history of India, Tripura has entered into the Broad Gauge network of Indian Railways. After Katra in Jammu, Naharlagun in Arunachal, Manipur, Nagaland and Mizoram, Tripura has been connected to New Delhi !! It took 69 years and a Suresh Prabhu to connect the states of northeast India with railways ! Ministry of Railways is spending Rs. 7000 crore in next 5 years on developing railway infrastructure in the northeast. All the seven state capitals will be connected to New Delhi in the next few years under this ambitious program.

To be frank, these are just a few major achievements that I could list in this article. There are many more achievements to the credit of Suresh Prabhu, who is a true visionary and indeed a blessing to the Indian Railways which was almost on the verge of getting derailed before Suresh Prabhu ji took the reign of the ministry. Under his able and far-sighted leadership, Indian Railways is steadily on its way to become one of the most efficient, modern, customer-friendly and advanced railway networks in the world.

Kshitij Mohan.
([email protected])

(The author is a passionate railway enthusiast, whose hobby, passion and love is railways. He keenly follows the developments in the fields of railways all over the world. Currently pursuing his Ph.D. from Germany)