Indian Railways News

Railways’ Disaster Management Institute and Safety village to come up near Bengaluru

Trains falling into rivers and coaches catching fire will be common sights in the country’s first ‘Railways disaster management village’ expected to come up on the outskirts of Bengaluru by December next year.

A senior official of the railways ministry said “overaged rolling stock” will be used to replicate train accidents so that real time rescue operations could be carried out to improve such efforts.

“It will be just like the mock drills carried out by security personnel. It will be as real as it can get,” he said.

The railways has earmarked the 3.32-sq km village of Hejjala, with a resource of 3,483 people, to develop its Disaster Management Institute and Safety village at a cost of Rs 44.42 crore, according to the blueprint accessed by PTI.

“For augmenting theoretical class room training with practical hands on exercise, a real environment for training in various conditions and scenarios of train accidents, a concept of safety village was envisaged,” it said.

The focus is on imparting state of the art training on rescue, medical relief and rolling stock restoration techniques in a classroom and also using various simulated teaching aids. However, it is the practical reproduction of accidents on site and the ensuing rescue operations that are being touted as the big ticket venture.

“For the practical training as a part of the safety village tunnel, cutting, embankment, other conditions and obstructions like overhead structures and platforms are being created. For carrying out underwater rescue and relief operations, a water body is also being developed,” it said.

Overaged rolling stock such as coaches, wagons and locomotives would be stationed in the safety village along with various tools and equipment for imparting hands-on practical training, the concept note said.

“The centre aims at providing training on dealing with various disasters under varied environment and terrain,” it said. The focus is on imparting state of the art training on rescue, medical relief and rolling stock restoration techniques in a classroom and also using various simulated teaching aids. However, it is the practical reproduction of accidents on site and the ensuing rescue operations that are being touted as the big ticket venture.

Construction work has begun and will be completed by December next year, it said.

Indian Railways on the fast track to undertake 70 Capacity Augmentation projects

Suresh Prabhu, the minister of railways, is a man in a tearing hurry. For he has to make up for the lack of any significant addition over the last two decades to the infrastructure of this 65,000-km-long network. Successive railway ministers, given to populism, have announced hundreds of new trains at the annual Rail Budgets, unmindful of whether there was adequate track capacity to run them or not. Resultantly, over the last two decades, no less than 5,000 such new trains have been added, taking the total tally of passenger trains to nearly 9,000, whereas the addition to freight during this period has been less than 1,000 trains.

Moreover, most of the new passenger trains have been the superfast variety, on the lines of those started by the late Madhavrao Scindia, who introduced the concept of fast intercity trains such as the Shatabdi Express in the 1980s. Nitish Kumar as the railway minister introduced a slew of Sampark Kranti Express trains, Lalu Prasad Yadav had his brand of Garib Rath, while Mamata Banerjee did one better with the Duronto Express trains which ran non-stop from source to destination.

The overcrowded tracks, 60% of which now carry over 100% and some even 150% of their designed capacity, have resulted in the freight trains taking a severe hit, with the average speeds dropping to an abysmal 25kph, since the passenger trains are always accorded precedence over freight.

Simultaneously, the reluctance of ministers over the last two decades to announce any meaningful hike in passenger tariff to keep up with inflation has resulted in the passenger business being subsidised at the cost of freight, whose tariff was hiked regularly to keep the Indian Railways from going in the red.

The double whammy of low average speeds and the hike in tariff each year adversely impacted Indian Railways’ freight business. It has not been able to attract any significant volumes of new business and merrily carried on with annual increments in bulk commodities such as coal, iron ore, limestone, cement, food grains, petroleum products, etc.

The absence of assured timetable in the running of special parcel express trains, comparatively high tariff, and rigidity in rules and regulations have resulted in the lucrative parcel business eluding the railways and continuing to prefer road sector.

With financing of infrastructure projects being assured by insurance giant LIC, whom minister Prabhu persuaded to provide a Rs 1.5 lakh crore loan, the Indian Railways has now been on the fast track to undertake 70 capacity augmentation projects.

Mostly for converting single lines to double or double to triple wherever the volume of traffic has gone beyond 100% of designed capacity, projects sanctioned so far with a total length of 7,663.93-km and costing Rs 75,700.28 crore range from a short 1.82-km bypass line at Khurda Road in Odisha costing Rs 25.72 crore to doubling of the 467-km track of the Pune-Miraj-Londa section costing Rs 3,627 crore. Chhattisgarh government and South Eastern Coalfields have been roped in for a JV with Ircon to finance a 122-km-long new line from Gevra Road to Pendra Road costing Rs 4,949.28 crore for movement of coal.

The world over, for railways, freight is the breadwinner, with passenger services restricted mostly to fast intercity or commuter services. However, India has the unique distinction of having two-thirds of its trains carrying passengers which earn just one-third of its total revenue. Prabhu aims to correct this aberration by creating adequate infrastructure, offering fast, safe and cost-effective rail transport for freight, regaining Indian Railways’ role as the nation’s economic lifeline.

Two new corridors, dedicated to carry freight, have also been in the works for almost a decade. The Eastern Corridor, a 1,278-km-long Ludhiana-Son Nagar alignment parallel to the existing grand trunk route, would meet the growing demand for coal by thermal power plants in the North from collieries in the East.

The Western Corridor—1,504-km-long from Delhi (Dadri) to Mumbai (JNPT)—will help export-import trade and also cater to the proposed DMIC. Expected to be commissioned sometime by end-2020, it will offer assured timetable running of freight trains, typically completing the Dadri to JNPT run in 24 hours.

Let Railways run on Commercial lines, not as a Charity

A parliamentary panel report on the Indian Railways wants to take the railways back to the stone-age. The panel has asked the government not to consider the national transporter as a commercial undertaking and to find ways to fund ‘socially desirable projects’.

As per the railways, a socially desirable project is one which has a rate of return of less than 12 percent.

Of the 432 projects that were considered 292 of them have a rate of return of less than 12 percent and astonishingly 222 of them have a negative rate of return. Thankfully, the committee said that these projects should be funded through gross budgetary support (GBS) and not through outside credit whereby the Railways have to pay the market rate because the return from these lines would not be substantial enough to reimburse the cost of borrowing. In other words, tax payers should foot the bill.

There seems to be little logic in what the panel has recommended. Railways are already starving for funds and with an operating ratio of nearly 96 percent, it is barely able to keep its head above water. According to the Railways, the total net social service obligation on coaching and freight services was at Rs 34,000 crore in FY16. Adding more unviable projects will hamper future prospects of railways.

There is a case for connecting remote border areas with railways, but all other projects which can have an alternative should be considered.

Railways are already going through its biggest ever expansion plan with a clear cut roadmap of Rs 8.5 lakh crore being planned over the next five years. Most part of the funding required for the huge expenditure is from non-government sources.

Railway electrification, which stands at 42 percent, is expected to be doubled over the next five years. About 16,500 km of railway lines are projected to be doubled or tripled. This compares with 22,000 km that was laid over the last 70 years. Private freight stations are expected to be created along with the dedicated freight corridor.

Which the fund requirement for decongestion is huge, railways is clogged with semi-finished projects that have been announced so that politicians can o please their vote banks.

The railway network is already clogged at various points with 16 percent of the network carrying 60 percent of the traffic. Some regions of the network are operating at 150-160 percent of their capacity. This results in accidents and deaths. Rather than spending money on safety the proposal to invest in ‘socially desirable projects’ is a cruel joke.

Surprisingly, there is no mention of hiking rail fare to meet the requirement of full-filling these projects. Railways, which was known to lose market share on long distance route to the airline, is losing on short and medium distances to buses and alternate transports. What it means is that people prefer to use other transport services irrespective of the price. Politicians should thus stop their drama of crying for even small increases because people are now willing to pay provided timely services are available.

For the first time in the recent past the railways is being run like a professional organization. Track line at 8 km per day from earlier levels of 3 km per day is an indication that railway employees are willingly contributing to the growth. World Bank has appreciated, in writing, the way in which railways are functioning. Under such circumstances, the idea suggested by the parliament panel of going back to the old ways of subsidizing ‘socially desirable projects’ is one from the previous era.

Suresh Prabhu to inaugurate FIAT High Speed Rail has the potential to transform Rail Travel and Bolster the Economy: Raghu Dayal, former CMD/CONCOR

The very mention of high speed rail or bullet train often elicits images of exorbitantly expensive infrastructure projects. High speed rail or HSR, which basically means trains running on dedicated lines at 250 km/h or higher has almost everywhere been initially dubbed as elitist. And India is no exception.

Just as it was asked in the case of the pioneer Shinkansen in Japan and later TGV in France, a general query is posed here too: isn’t HSR a case of muddled priorities in India? Why do we need such a capital-guzzling project when many other pressing issues need resources?

Let us get the perspective right. India’s pioneering 500-km ‘bullet’ train corridor between Mumbai and Ahmedabad, being executed in collaboration with Gujarat and Maharashtra, in no way crowds out any of Indian Railways’ projects and schemes. Japan’s offer of the $12 billion assistance at highly concessional terms is not transferable to other rail projects.

HSR advantage

A few selected high-density HSR corridors are amply justified for a mature mobility mix, to unlock an immense hidden value, and for the country not to be left out of essential technology upgrade. A nation of India’s size, potential and aspirations has to envision its destiny, sometimes with, what may appear, irrational exuberance.

As a McKinsey report suggests, by 2025, the number of households earning ₹2,00,000-₹10,00,000 annually will have risen to 583 million from the current 50 million. More intensive urbanisation as well as rising incomes would lead to higher travel propensity.

It is inconceivable that the Railways would continue to deny itself a peep into the rapid technological and commercial transformation railway systems world over experience.

Concerns over depleting fossil fuel reserves, climate change, overcrowded airports, delayed flights and congested roads have conspired against the HSR technology alternative.

Energy-efficient and environmentally benign, a high-speed electric train emits an eight and a fifth of carbon dioxide as against automobiles and airplanes per passenger km, respectively. A double-track rail line has more than thrice the passenger carrying capacity of a six-lane highway while requiring less than half the land.

Apart from diverting passengers from road and air, HSRgenerates a new class of passengers as well. With the average operating speeds of around 250 km/h, HSR helps bring settlements 500 km apart within two hours of each other. Designed to be faster than a car, while also cheaper and more convenient than a plane, HSR has been a catalyst for economic growth, a stimulus for the development of satellite towns, helping alleviate migration to metropolises. Providing services from and to city centres, HSR serves important centres en route, providing value for time through express and easy access to tier-II and tier-III cities.

HSR’s unblemished safety record is an important benefit: with a 2,500-km network, providing high frequency, up to 14 trains per hour, the Shinkansen ever since its inception in 1964 has maintained a unique record of no fatal accident. The TGV has been running without any accidents for the last 30 years, and more.

Global best practice

Today, most large railway systems have HSR. The TGV operating on some routes every five minutes is hailed as the real “low-cost” carrier. Shinkansen has emerged as an invaluable part of Japan’s mobility and economy. With already a 22,000-km sprawling high speed PDL (passenger dedicated lines) network, longest for any country, China is set to extend it to 30,000 km by 2020, when its total rail routes aggregate to 200,000 km. Less than a decade ago, China had no HSR; now its high speed trains move twice as many passengers as its airlines, and the demand keeps growing.

In India, clamour constantly increases for passenger trains providing hassle-free, speedy, safe, reliable and comfortable travel. Already, Indians are travelling more; they are travelling longer. By 2020-21, Indians will travel on average thrice as much as they travelled in 2000-01. The Railways has woefully lagged in substantially extending, accelerating and modernising its infrastructure and services.

The Railways needs to segregate its passenger business from freight, for better focus and orientation, enabling it to quickly pluck some ‘low hanging fruits’. It should upgrade the wherewithal for ‘semi high speed’ inter-city trains for, say, 10-12-hour journeys on Delhi-Mumbai and Delhi-Kolkata Rajdhanis and 3-4 hour commuting on Shatabdis.

The Railways needs to restructure its services and tariffs to be able to reposition rail travel in preference to car as well as airlines. Its annual loss currently estimated at ₹30,000 crore from the passenger business is untenable.

More than suburban passenger traffic the ordinary second class fare is responsible for losses. There appears no rationale, for example, for non-suburban commuters availing of season ticket concession up to a distance of 150 km; this segment, though amounting to 22.1 per cent of non-suburban travellers in 2015-16, contributed a meagre 1.3 per cent of earnings.

A win-win

HSR fares are normally higher than classic rail services for increased speed, reliability and comfort. HSR stations are as a rule as comfortable and attractive as airports. The Shinkansen fare includes a surcharge that doubles the fare for conventional trains. HSR fares in China are around thrice the conventional train fares. Revenues from fare box collections are appreciably buttressed, in particular by commercial developments in and around HSR stations. Japan’s JR East Group operates over 40 hotels, offers some 177,000 retail locations at stations, and earns advertising revenues from 17 million daily passengers.

The Railways operates a daily average of over 13,000 passenger trains — including about 3,400 long distance inter-city mail and express services, 4,700 short distance stopping “regional” trains, and around 5,000 sub-urban ‘locals’, mostly in Mumbai and Kolkata. Slow sectional trains among the ‘regional’ services contribute the maximum loss in passenger business.

They also have multiple stops and consume a substantial portion of scarce movement capacity, including on high density routes. An autonomous corporate entity, if put in place under the Railways’ umbrella, would be better equipped to manage all sectional/regional passenger services including specific short distance suburban streams on the system.

The Railways must ensure the Ahmedabad-Mumbai HSR project is commissioned within stipulated time and cost. It needs to keep the other six designated HSR corridors on radar, feasibility studies for which have already been completed.

Additional detailed techno-economic studies strangely awarded by the Railways for 350 km/h trains corridors on arterial routes along the golden quadrilateral and its diagonals are prima facie ill conceived.

As a thumb rule, for high density routes of 200-800 km, airlines cannot match HSR in terms of total journey time inclusive of first/last-mile connectivity with airports/stations and ancillary security checks, etc; below 200 km, road transport has an edge; beyond 800 km, air option is better placed.

Jammu Railway Station On High Alert After Terror Threat

The Jammu railway station is on a high alert a day after a low intensity explosive device and a letter vowing revenge for the killing of Lashkar-e-Taiba commander Abu Dujana was found on a Jammu bound train. With inputs suggesting possible terrorist attacks ahead of the Independence Day, a high alert has been sounded and trains are being thoroughly checked and passengers frisked.

“We found some bags abandoned at the station, we searched and seized those. We are making foolproof security arrangements to ensure that there is no untoward incident ahead of the Independence Day,” said JK Kundal, Deputy Commandant Railway Protection Force.

Jammu railway station has been on the hit-list of terrorist in the past. In 2004, four security personnel were killed and 14 injured after terrorists attacked the railway station. Every day thousands of Vaishno Devi pilgrims reach Jammu by trains. Many expressed satisfaction at the elaborate security arrangements.

“There are adequate security arrangements in place. We don’t see any problem. Security forces are deployed everywhere, gadgetry is also installed,” said a pilgrim Sunil Yadav.

Egypt Train Crash Kills 36, Injures More Than 100

Two trains collided in Egypt’s coastal city of Alexandria on Friday killing 36 people and injuring more than 100 others, a health ministry spokesman said.

The crash at 2:15 p.m. (1215 GMT) near the suburban Khorshid station on the route to Cairo, derailed the engine of one train and two cars of the other, the Egyptian Railway Authority said.

A railroad switching error was the most likely cause of the collision, a security source. He gave no further details.

State newspaper al-Ahram said 36 bodies had arrived at hospital morgues in Alexandria province. Public prosecutor Nabil Sadek ordered an urgent investigation, it said.

A medical official told state TV some wounded people were still stuck in the trains.

Footage on state television showed dozens of people crowding around the damaged train cars, with bodies strewn on the ground.

“The train I was riding was going very quickly,” said passenger Moumen Youssef. “I found myself on the floor. When we came out, we found four train cars crushed and a lot of people on the ground.”

In 2012, 50 people – mostly children – were killed when a train crashed into a school bus south of Cairo, further inflaming public anger at authorities over Egypt’s antiquated transport network.

Terrifying Moment Train Crashes Into Truck At Railway Crossing

The terrifying moment an oncoming train crashed into a trailer truck stuck on a railway track has been caught on camera. Two different videos of the incident show the collision and the impact of the crash on the trailer, which was reduced to a pile of rubble in the accident. Luckily, no one was hurt in the incident, according to reports.

The videos, one 51-seconds-long and the other 18-seconds-long, show the truck standing on the tracks at a railway crossing in Atlanta in Georgia, US. Seconds into the video, the train can be seen approaching the crossing at high speed. It is then seen crashing into the trailer and continuing forward. While the trailer looks completely destroyed, you can see the contents it was carrying spread on the ground.

“I wish the truck drivers would read the signs,” Maryann Morfoot, who lives in the area, told WSB-TV. “Our fear is always that something on a train would be dangerous, and there’s no way for us to get out. Luckily, this time it was just candy. I’m glad it was just candy.”

The tracks were eventually cleared for trains to pass. The police will cite the driver for the incident, reports WSB-TV.

IAS Officer Recorded Lengthy Video Declaring He Would Kill Himself

A senior bureaucrat from Bihar recorded a video declaring his intent to kill himself. Mukesh Pandey said in the video that is nearly five minutes long, that nobody should be blamed for his suicide though he talks of tension between his parents and his wife, and said she and he were polar opposites “like coal and cheese.”

The 32-year-old was remembered by Bihar Chief Minister today as an “efficient administrator and sensitive officer”.
Mr Pandey, said in the video that it was recorded in Buxar, where he was posted as District Magistrate. His body was found near railways tracks in Delhi early this morning.

He talks in his video of his young child and said he is aware of how much his wife loves him. A suicide note found with his body disclosed that he travelled to Delhi where he checked into a five-star hotel.

“I am committing suicide in the district centre area of Janakpuri in west Delhi…by jumping off the 10th floor of the building. I am fed up with life and my belief on human existence has gone, my suicide note is kept in a Nike bag in room 742 of a five-star hotel in Delhi. I am sorry, I love you all! Please forgive me,” said the note found with his body, according to police officer HN Singh.

“I spoke to him last on Tuesday…he sounded happy and asked about my diabetes,” said Mr Pandey’s father in Guwahati.

The officer checked into a luxury hotel yesterday afternoon and at around 4:30 pm, took a cab to a mall in west Delhi. He sent WhatsApp messages to relatives that he was going to commit suicide. The relatives called the police, who rushed to the mall but didn’t see him.

CCTV footage showed the officer, in a blue T-shirt and jeans, leaving the mall and heading to a metro station. Around 8 pm, Mr Pandey’s sister-in-law looked for him at the hotel and, not finding him, reported him missing.

Later, the police learnt that he had been found dead near rail tracks.

Mr Pandey, a 2012 batch Indian Administrative Service officer, ranked 14 in the civil services exam and was known for his impeccable track record.

 

 

Parliamentary Panel wants Centre to fund Railways ‘socially desirable’ projects in a phased manner

Projects that offer a rate of return of less than 12 per cent are bracketed as “socially desirable”.

Of the 432 new-line, gauge-conversion and doubling projects, two-thirds (292) have a rate of return of less than 12 per cent, the Standing Committee on Railways noted with concern. In fact, 222 of them have a negative rate of return, according to the report.

‘Rethink on definition’

Seeking an assessment of the quantum of social service obligations, the Committee has asked the Ministry to have a re-look at defining the Railways as a ‘commercial undertaking’ as, much like defence and roadways, the transporter makes an indirect contribution to overall GDP, besides also fetching direct earnings.

“…the concept (of the Railways being a commercial undertaking) was alright as long as it was under the British regime. Whatever penny the Britishers invested, they wanted returns out of it,” added the report.

The Committee was apprised that, while the Railways had not yet received a response from the Finance Ministry, steps had been initiated in this regard by merging the Rail Budget with the General Budget. According to the Railways, the total net social service obligation on coaching and freight services was at ₹34,000 crore in FY16.

‘Fund social projects’

In this context, the Committee has asked the government to come up with viable plans to fund ‘socially desirable projects’ in a phased manner so as to address issues in perspective, remove hindrances and work as a pro-active facilitator of connectivity.

The Railways, the Committee report said, could only fund these projects through gross budgetary support (GBS) and through outside credit whereby the Railways have to pay market rate, because the return from these lines would not be substantial enough to reimburse the cost of borrowing.

Moreover, 83 of the 432 projects form a part of the list of Railways’ ‘least priority projects’. An additional 29 projects do not even make it to this list. The list was drawn up to optimally utilise the meagre budgetary support and avoid funds from being spread too thin.

However, the Railways have prioritised some projects as national projects (which is on the ‘top priority’ list): these include some in Jammu and Kashmir and the North-East.

As on date, the Railways have a throwforward of 495 ongoing, pending projects worth ₹4.36-lakh crore, which can never be completed if the public sector behemoth were to proceed with the present mode of funding, the panel report noted.

 

PCM Gp which acquired 100-year-old German firm ‘Rail.One’, targets Euro 30 mil investment to expand global reach

It was back in 1894, that Gustav Adolf Pfleiderer established a lumber rafting and trading business in Heilbronn, Germany. By 1920, the family-owned company Pfleiderer was already supplying wooden sleepers to Deutsche Bahn (then known as Deutsche Reichsbahn), the German railway operator. Several innovations followed in the subsequent years, the company emerged as one of the important partners of Deutsche Bahn in supplying high speed tracks. Meanwhile, the Mittelstand company (term used for typically a family-owned small and medium-sized manufacturing firm in Germany) had expanded footprints across the globe.

In 2006, the track system unit of Pfleiderer, with around 850 employees, was sold to AXA Private Equity and renamed RAIL.ONE.

In 2013, in one of the first of its kind acquisitions, a lesser-known Indian firm from Siliguri in West Bengal, PCM Group, acquired RAIL.ONE. As PCM group completes almost four years of acquisition, the odd marriage between a mid-sized Indian and a German company has turned out to be precedence for the much touted Make in India Mittelstand programme, aimed at collaboration between Indian and German small and mid-sized manufacturing units.

In fact, PCM Group acquired a company which was almost double its size in terms of turnover. RAIL.ONE has a turnover of around Euro 145 million (about Rs 1,091 crore), while PCM Group has an annual turnover of close to Rs 600 crore. Thus, the PMC RAIL.ONE Group has now a collective turnover of close to Rs 1,600 crore.

“We purchased at a price much lower than the revenue. The PE fund which owned RAIL.ONE did not want to run the company, and it was a good opportunity for us to expand our footprints,” said says Nishant Mittal, member of the supervisory board at PCM RAIL.ONE.

In fact, back in 2007, when Saudi Arabia was inviting bids for setting railway network in the region, RAIL.ONE was a major competitor to PCM Group. While PCM set up two plants in the country, RAIL.ONE set up one.

“That time, in 2007, we never thought of acquiring RAIL.ONE as it was completely out of our reach,” says Mittal.

By virtue of the acquisition, an Indian-promoted firm has now emerged as a major supplier (Q1 or highest quality standard supplier of concrete and turnout sleepers) to Deutsche Bahn. So far, the company has supplied close to 20 million concrete sleepers for the German railway network.

“One of the biggest challenges for us was to understand the synergies the cultural differences. In the beginning, there were a lot of anxieties in the German side about the acquisition,” says Mittal.

Recently, RAIL.ONE underwent a restructuring, whereby German operations have been separated into a new entity, and a holding company, called PCM RAIL.ONE Group, has been created for all the subsidiaries of the company. Prior to the acquisition, PCM Group’s overseas operations were limited to Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bangladesh. However, post the acquisition, it has footprints in Romania, Spain, South Korea, Hungary, Turkey, the United States, apart from Germany.

The re-shaping of the company’s organization was a step towards facilitating future international growth and market concentration. The holding entity, which provides marketing, R&D, business development as well as strategy and group controlling, is helmed by Jochen Riepl and a supervisory board consisting of PCM family members.

In the next two to three years, PCM RAIL.ONE is looking at an investment of around Euro 30 million, according to Mittal.

Some of the ongoing projects of the company include one in Aschaffenburg (Bavaria/Germany), where PCM RAIL.ONE is setting up a new plant with a capacity of 600,000 sleepers per year. In the future, the new site in Aschaffenburg will be the logistic center for sleeper delivery in western Germany. In the Middle East, the company is delivering prestressed concrete main line sleepers for North South Project, which covers a length of 2,400 km. This apart, it is also pursuing large-scale projects in Scandinavia (up to 800 km of high-speed lines). This apart, the company is also engaged in a number of projects for Indian Railways.

 

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