Indian Railways News

Indian Railways News

Global Railway, Transport Unions caution against Privatisation move in Indian Railways

Global railway and transport unions today cautioned against partial or complete privatisation of the Indian Railways, adding that it could be “damaging” for the country. At a meeting of the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) here, representatives of international railway and transport unions raised concerns over the Indian government’s attempts to privatise railways. Mick Whelan, representing Britain’s trade union for train drivers, said the British Railways had been privatised in a number of areas through a private-public partnership (PPP)model.

“The revenue targets set 15 years ago are still to be met. Instead there has been a dip in the quality of amenities and service. So, no one has benefited from the exercise,” Whelan said opposing any kind of privatisation in the sector. Railway Board chairman Ashwani Lohani, who was also present in the meeting, assured the unions that there was no move to privatise the national transporter and it would remain in the public sector, representatives of the Indian railway unions at the meeting claimed.

Lohani, however, said the railways was looking at foreign investment in areas like technological upgradation and modernisation, adding that primarily railways will remain a state transporter, a representative of All India Railwaymen’s Federation (AIRF) told PTI. Speaking about Argentina where the entire public services was privatised between 1958-1989, Julio Adolfo Sosa, president, Argentinian Railway Workers Union, said its effects had been disastrous.

“While in 1958 in Argentina, 100 per cent of freight was carried by railways and the railway line was more than 7,000 km long. Now only 820 km is left. The private players never bothered to maintain the tracks. Today, running lines exist only in the big cities in the country. But, now, it has again being taken over by the government and the rebuilding has begun,” she said.

AIRF General Secretary Shiv Gopal Mishra said global experience has shown that privatisation has harmed both consumers and railway workers, without much benefits to even private players. S N Malik of National Federation of Indian Railwaymen said, “The government is forcing us to go on strike. Young railway employees are coming out to protest against the new pension policy and the PPP model”.

The International Transport Workers Federation (ITF), comprising representatives of global transport organisations from 147 countries, has also formed a committee to work on a detailed report on privatisation of transport sector and its effects. The report will be submitted at a global conference in October, 2018 in Singapore.

Railway Ministry decides to remove LCD Screens from Tejas, Shatabdi Express

The Ministry of Railways has decided to remove LCD screens installed in coaches of premium trains like Tejas Express and Shatabdi Express, as the devices were damaged by passengers. The LCD screens were installed with pre-loaded content for the entertainment of the passengers.

Tejas was inaugurated on May 24, 2017. The train had all the modern facilities like automatic doors, GPS, Fire Smoke Detection System, and CCTV cameras installed. LCD screens were installed to give people a completely different experience. However, Passengers did extensive damage to LCD screens.

Reports said that after the very first travel, LCDs were damaged. Many were missing, while some were damaged or destroyed. These incidents led Railways to rethink its decision to install the screens in the trains.

Kalka-Shimla Steam Engine causes Forest Fire, villagers enraged

The use of coal for running a steam engine by the Railways, especially for foreign tourists, is posing a threat to forests, with a major fire breaking out in pine forests under Anandpur panchayat near Shoghi yesterday.

Villagers are up in arms against the use of coal by the Railways, which has become a cause for the outbreak of fire in the forests.

Led by Mahender Kumar, pradhan of Anandpur, the villagers have made up their mind to lodge an FIR and take up the matter with the Railway Minister also.

“The sparks coming along with the steam and burning embers falling out caused a forest fire even in 2016 and yesterday again, a major fire broke out,” said Mahender Kumar.

The fire caused a lot of damage to the forest, wildlife and the grass that the villagers used as fodder.

The steam engine runs occasionally on the UNESCO World Heritage Track between Kalka-Shimla. With the charges for it being quite high, it plies mostly for group of foreign tourists, who like to visit the erstwhile summer capital of the British.

The Forest Department too has taken a serious note of the forest fire. “We will issue a notice to the Railways and give it a week’s time to reply to it. We cannot allow any damage to the forest on account of callousness by anyone,” said Amit Sharma, Divisional Forest Officer (DFO).

The villagers rued that the fire caused pollution with thick smoke coming out for days together.

“We are not opposing the running of the steam engine but the Railways must take some precaution to ensure that it does not result in a forest fire,” said Mahender Kumar.

He said the Railways should clear the area adjacent to the track to remove the highly inflammable dry pine needles before the steam engine was to be run.

He also felt that a water tanker could be used to spray water immediately after the engine moved to ensure that fire did not erupt. There were several villages in the vicinity of the track.

“We will pass a resolution to seek the intervention of the Railway Minister and the state government so that necessary steps can be taken to avert forest fire,” said a local Ashok Sharma.

ECoR adopts micro tunneling method to rectify water logging issue at Bhubaneswar station

The East Coast Railway(ECoR) has adopted Micro-Tunneling System to clear the logged water from Bhubaneswar Railway Station yard the signaling system of Railways as well as train services in Howrah-Chennai Main Line.

ECoR sources said the drainage system and clearance of logged water from the Railway Station yard and surrounding areas during heavy rains was a major problem since long.

The Municipal Drain connecting to Station areas was inadequate to discharge the water accumulated whenever heavy rains lashed the area. The huge quantity of rain water from Ashok Nagar area and Station area overflows and comes to South end and also North end of Bhubaneswar Railway Station yard.

The flooding of yard by heavy rains was making the points nonfunctional and leading to signal failure and ultimately resulting in disruption of train traffic. The passengers were also facing lot of inconvenience due to disruption of traffic. Passengers had to walk through the flooded platforms on many occasions To resolve this problem, the rebuilding of bridge was planned but it could not be executed due to difficulties in execution and huge demand of traffic block.

The ECoR then decided to adopt micro tunneling methodology a trenchless construction method used to install pipelines beneath highways, railroads, runways, harbors, rivers, and environmentally sensitive areas.

The drainage problem of Bhubaneswar yard is expected to be eliminated after implementation of this micro tunneling method which will be completed in 30 days.

ECoR claimed that the micro tunneling method has been used for first time in East Coast Railway

Railways’ Spending-Income Gap Highest In Last 18 Years: CAG Report

In what has been affecting Indian Railways maneuvering power in terms of providing better facilities to its passengers, Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) has stated that Railways’ operating ratio has reached its worst since 2001 at 96.50 percent as compared to 98.34 percent in 2000-01.

“The Operating Ratio during 2016-17 had deteriorated to the lowest level of 96.50 percent since 2000-01 when it was 98.34 percent. Since Operating Ratio is a direct indicator of the working of Railways, the Ministry of Railways should also look into the various innovative ways for revenue generation and closely monitor the expenditure,” said the report.

The operating ratio shows the efficiency of an institution’s management by comparing operating expense to net sales. The lower the ratio, the better it is for the organisation.

The Railways has been struggling to get rid of its ageing assets and maintenance of the newly introduced ones. The report pointed out non-availability of sufficient funds in depreciation reserve fund to replace the over aged assets as indicative of weak financial health of Indian Railways.

“The huge backlog of renewal and replacement of over aged assets in railway system needs to be addressed for safe running of trains,” said the report.

Pointing out another suggestion, the CAG report said, “Ministry of Railways needs to revisit the passenger and other coaching tariffs so as to recover the cost of operations in a phased manner and reduce its losses in its core activities.”

Minister for Railways, Piyush Goyal while talking about reducing losses on 13 February, 2018, blamed the Trinamool Congress and Congress parties for deteriorating financial condition of the Indian Railways and said these parties owe answers to the country.

Goyal said the NDA government in 2014 got the poor performing Indian Railways in legacy. “If anybody is responsible for pushing the Railways to this stage then it is the Trinamool and Congress parties,” he said.

Goyal also accused the West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee of putting additional financial burden on the Indian Railways by making loss-making Kolkata Metro a subsidiary of the Railways. “The thought of the party and its leaders are limited,” he quipped.

The CAG report further pointed out lags in the system, “There is hardly any justification for not fully recovering the cost of passenger services in case of AC 1stClass, First Class and AC 2-Tier.”

“Total Capital grew from 1,83,488 crore as on 31 March 2013 to 3,12,635 crore as on 31 March 2017, total traffic handled declined from 7,27,610 million net tonne kilometres to 7,01,813 million net tonne kilometres respectively,” added the report.

The CAG report also noted that the Railways needs to take measures to improve competitiveness of its services vis-à-vis road and air travel.

Malaysia to train 3,600 Students for employment in ECRL project

The East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) project will train and employ 3,600 students with railway technology skill sets, a move that will raise the employability of youths especially from Kelantan, Terengganu and Pahang.

Malaysia Rail Link Sdn Bhd (MRL) CEO Darwis Abdul Razak said the move to train these graduates was timely given the massive infrastructure projects taking place in the country, like the Light Rail Transit (LRT), Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) and High-Speed Rail (HSR) link between Malaysia and Singapore.

“Railway technology is developing rapidly in Malaysia,” he said in a televised interview.

MRL is the project owner of the RM55 billion ECRL, which is scheduled to be completed in 2024. The 688km rail will link Kelantan to Port Klang.

Darwis said it was crucial for Malaysians to be able to manage and operate the ECRL after its construction.

He said Malaysia would also have more rail workers to cater to the industry through the ECRL Industrial Skills Training Programme amid the government focus on rail infrastructure.

The training programme, PLKI-ECRL, is the result of collaboration between MRL, turnkey contractor China Communications Construction Company (CCCC) and Universiti Malaysia Pahang (UMP).

According to Darwis, focusing on the design and construction of railways will arm locals with the necessary skill sets to work on rail projects.

He said the higher education ministry had named UMP as the main institution to coordinate the training, based on the syllabus by Beijing Jiaotong University and Southwest Jiaotong University, two prominent universities from China which also serve as CCCC’s railway technology training partner.

The ECRL is expected to generate more than 80,000 jobs for Malaysians during its construction period and another 6,000 during the rail’s operation.

Darwis said all the graduates trained would be absorbed by either MRL, CCCC or its subcontractors.

Rail Minister keen on expeditious completion of WiFi Project at all stations by March 2019

Piyush Goyal-led Indian Railways is leaving no stone unturned for its plans to equip all railway stations in the country with free WiFi services. In a recently held Railway Board meeting it was decided that over 8,000 railway stations in the country will offer free WiFi facility by the end of March 2019. The ambitious plan was extensively discussed in the Railway Board meeting, sources told. An implementation mechanism for the same will be decided in yet another meeting that will be held on March 16, sources said adding that the focus would be on providing internet access to stations in rural areas. The railway stations WiFi project is likely be a key enabler for Modi government’s ‘Digital India’ initiative, especially for rural areas where access to internet can be a game-changer.

“There are over 7,000 railway stations in rural areas and the Railway Ministry wants to set up WiFi hotspots there so that people can come to railway stations to use the internet. The cost of setting up 1-2 WiFi hotspot in rural railway stations is much less compared to say New Delhi, Lucknow or Howrah, but the advantages are manifold as it allows for digital penetration,” sources said.

Meanwhile, RailTel in collaboration with the Department of Telecom (DoT) is already setting up WiFi hotspots on 200 rural railway stations, of which over 140 have already been covered. “Along with DoT, we are also setting up kiosks at these railway stations that will help people understand how to use internet and will allow them to access various government services,” a RailTel official told.

Till now the focus of providing WiFi on railway stations was centered around A1 and A category of stations. Technology giant Google along with RailTel is working to equip 400 major railway stations in the country with high-speed internet facility. It is learnt that as many as 317 stations have already been covered and a stiff deadline of early 2018 is being eyed to meet the 400 railway stations target. Google claims that its WiFi services for India’s railway stations are faster than those in San Francisco and London! The fiber network infrastructure and power for the mammoth project is being provided by RailTel, Google on its part is bringing in its expertise on radio access network. This allows for better user experience on laptops, mobile phones and other WiFi enabled devices.

Trade Union fumes over Railways jobs outsourcing

Stating that allowing foreign entities to enter the sector posed a “potential threat” to passenger safety, the railway workers’ union has raised concerns over the large-scale “outsourcing” of railway works.

In a memorandum to Railway Minister Piyush Goyal, the All India Railwaymen’s Federation (AIRF) today raised serious concerns over the “privatisation” or “outsourcing” of regular works through contracts, which they alleged violated the provisions of the Contract Labour (Regulation and Abolition) Act, 1970.

“There has been a constant attempt to hand over the regular jobs to outside agencies, in detriment to the interest of safe travelling of the public. With a view to intensify the matter, a committee, headed by Bibek Debroy, was appointed and on the basis of the report of the committee, one by one different departmental activities of the Indian Railways are being handed over to private parties,” the memorandum said.

It added that the railway workers feared that gradually, the work of manufacturing coaches and locomotives, including their day-to-day maintenance, as also the maintenance of the tracks were being handed over to entrepreneurs.

“Private parties have also been allowed to run train-sets. The Indian Railways has formed a Station Development Authority and decided to hand over the stations to private parties gradually. The manning of level-crossing gates and patrolling of railway tracks are also being handed over to private parties…Posing a serious threat to the safe running of the railways,” the memorandum said.

The workers also raised concerns over 100 per cent foreign direct investments (FDI) in the railways and said agreements with Alstom (France) and General Electric (USA) for manufacturing electric and diesel locomotives included contracts for maintenance by the foreign agencies for a period of 15 years.

“Presently, orders have been issued by the Ministry of Railways to close down a number of printing presses and hand over those works to outside agencies. AIRF expresses its serious concern on large-scale outsourcing of railway works, part by part, causing a potential threat to the safety of the travelling public,” the memorandum said.

The AIRF said over 50,000 railway workers marched to Parliament today, protesting against the new pension scheme and with a demand for increasing the minimum pay. While the federation demanded the withdrawal of the National Pension Scheme, it sought an increase in the minimum pay from Rs 18,000 to Rs 26,000.

Sources in the Railway Ministry commented that “when innovation is part of the job, automatically the skilled resources would be taken from outside markets. Alstom and GE are falling within the policy of Make in India initiatives undertaken by the Government of India bringing the expertise, innovation and improved systems to Railways in India. Hence the trade unions need not unnecessarily worry on what is happening in the private enterprise segment and cannot equate that industry with Indian Railways“. The sources also commented that if AIRF wants everything to be insourced, then let them come with concrete plan of bringing innovative solutions, technology, idea and modus operandi, so that we can also plan insourcing. Till that time, they can’t throw stones at unknown vacuum.

Find new ways to generate Revenue: CAG to Railways

Indian Railways should look into innovative ways for revenue generation and closely monitor its expenditure, the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) has said in a report that was tabled in Parliament on Tuesday.

“The operating ratio during 2016-17 had deteriorated to the lowest level of 96.5% since 2000-01 when it was 98.3%,” said the CAG report on railways finances for 2016-17.

“Since, operating ratio is a direct indicator of the working of railways, the ministry of railways should also look into the various innovative ways for revenue generation and closely monitor the expenditure.”

The report said the national transporter should revisit the passenger and other coaching tariffs so as to recover the cost of operations in a phased manner and reduce its losses in its core activities.

“The fixation of passenger fare and freight charges should be based on the cost involved so that it brings both rationality and flexibility in pricing, considering the financial health of railways and the current market scenario. There is hardly any justification for not fully recovering the cost of passenger services in case of AC classes,” the report said.

It said the practice of issuing free and concessional tickets should be scaled down. Non-availability of sufficient funds in depreciation reserve fund to replace the over aged assets is indicative of weak financial health of the railways, the report said. The CAG highlighted huge backlog of renewal and replacement of over aged assets in the railway system, which needs to be addressed for safe running of trains.

“Railways should impress upon the budget controlling authorities for regular monitoring of expenditure,” the report said.

“Internal control mechanism should be strengthened to reduce the instances of misclassification of expenditure. The unsanctioned expenditure should be controlled; administration should ensure all unsanctioned expenditure is regularised on priority.”

‘Operating ratio has weakened to 16-year low; passenger fares, freight charges must aim to cover costs’

The reported operating ratio of 96.5% in 2016-17 does not reflect the true financial performance of Indian Railways, as this would have deteriorated to 99.54% if the actual expenditure on pension payments was taken into account, according to the CAG report tabled in Parliament.

An operating ratio of 99.54% means that Railways is spending 99.54 paise to earn 100 paise.

‘₹5,000 crore higher’

“Had the actual amount ₹40,025.95 crore required to meet the expenditure on pension payments of Zonal Railways been appropriated to the Pension Fund [instead of ₹35,000 crore], the total gross working expenditure of IR would have increased to ₹1,64,537.93 crore and the operating ratio would work out to 99.54%,” the Comptroller and Auditor General of India said.

Even at 96.5%, the operating ratio was at its poorest level since 2000-01 when it was 98.34%. Pitching for revisiting the passenger and other tariffs to reduce losses in core activities, the CAG said there was hardly any justification for not fully recovering the cost of passenger services in the case of AC First Class, First Class and AC 2-Tier class. “However, since one of the factors for not recovering full cost from these classes could be the issue of free and concessional fare passes [or] tickets to various beneficiaries in good numbers, this practice needs to be scaled down,” it added.

The CAG said passenger fares and freight charges should be based on the cost involved so that it brings both rationality and flexibility in pricing, considering the financial health of Railways and the current market scenario.

“Non-availability of sufficient funds in Depreciation Reserve Fund to replace the overaged assets is indicative of weak financial health of Indian Railways,” it said, adding that the huge backlog of renewal and replacement of over aged assets in railway system needs to be addressed for safe running of trains.

Control mechanisms

There is a need to strengthen internal control mechanisms to reduce instances of misclassification of expenditure, the CAG said.

“The unsanctioned expenditure should be controlled; administration should ensure all unsanctioned expenditure is regularised on priority,” it said.

Further, the CAG said that the Indian Railways should follow the system of disclosing significant accounting policies forming the basis of preparation of financial statements such as accounting of fixed assets, depreciation and investments.

Western Railway GM inspects the Ongoing Gauge Conversion works on Ahmedabad–Himmatnagar Section

A K Gupta, General Manager, W. Rly carried out extensive inspection of the gauge conversion work of Ahmedabad –Himmatnagar section and reviewed the progress of the work on Tuesday, 13th March, 2018. Gupta also inspected Asarva, Naroda, Dabhoda, Nandol Dahegam, Prantij, Talod, Sonasan and Himmatnagar including the under construction station buildings, yard layout, circulating area and also the major & minor bridges, under bridge, foot over bridge, tracks, etc on this section. He instructed to speed up the pace of work. Gupta said that W. Rly is making all efforts to complete this project as soon as possible and plans to commence the passenger train operations by the mid of this year.

Tommorrow, Gupta will be undertaking the inspection of the gauge conversion work of Ahmedabad – Mehsana section as well as the work between Mehsana – Vadnagar stations of Ahmedabad Division. During the inspection, Gupta was accompanied by M K Gupta – Chief Administrative Officer (Construction), W. Rly and S K Garg – Chief Project Manager, Ahmedabad alongwith other senior officers.