Air India chief Ashwani Lohani, viewed as something of a turnaround specialist, will take over as the new Chairman of the Railway Board after the resignation of its current chief AK Mittal in the shadow of several train crashes.
Mr Lohani, 58, belongs to the 1980 batch of the Indian Railways Service Mechanical Engineers.
Mr Mittal reportedly resigned yesterday after he was asked to go on leave by the ministry over the Utkal Express derailment on Saturday. 23 people died when 13 coaches of the train jumped track around 100 km from Delhi. This morning, over 70 were injured in another derailment.
Hours after reports of Mr Mittal’s resignation surfaced today, Railways Minister Suresh Prabhu tweeted that he had met Prime Minister Narendra Modi and suggested that he had offered to quit after two accidents in five days. Mr Prabhu said PM Modi had asked him to “wait”.
Mr Lohani is the senior-most railway official with more than one year in the board.
He was handpicked for the Air India top job reportedly by the Prime Minister and was the first choice to replace Mr Mittal. Officials say under Mr Lohani, the struggling airline posted an operational profit of Rs. 500 crore last year and improved its performance. The government has announced that it may privatize the airline.
He has also served in the National Rail Museum and holds the Guinness Record for successfully running the ‘Fairy Queen Express’, the world’s oldest working steam locomotive. He is credited with the turnaround of the Madhya Pradesh tourism department.
Mr Lohani is believed to have four engineering degrees and he has written two books.
After the train accident on Saturday, the Railways Ministry sent three top officials on leave, suspended four local officials and transferred another over lapses.