Deaths on tracks and shaky finances stalk railways despite some achievements

Arun Kumar Das

New Delhi, Dec 28 (IANS) Mowing down 61 people on the tracks on Dussehra, among a spate of accidents; rolling out the first indigenously-built Trainset and inauguration of the long-awaited Bogibeel railroad bridge over the mighty Brahmaputra river will permanently etch 2018 in the annals of the Indian Railways.

However, as the year draws to a close, the national transporter stares at a dismal financial scenario, with its operating ratio (OR) touching 112.91 per cent till Novemeber-end -- meaning it is spending almost Rs 113 to earn every Rs 100.

The Railways total earnings are way behind the target -- Rs 1,14,595.43 crore against the target of Rs 1,22,436.64 crore at the end of November, a shortfall of Rs 7,841.21 crore.

Despite the gloom over its financial health, the year will also be remembered for the railways going full steam ahead on electrification, track renewal and elimination of unmanned level crossings -- the three mantras of Railways Minister Piyush Goyal.

Barring just 28, the Railways claims to have eliminated all unmanned level crossing on broad-gauge tracks during the year. Besides, it set a target of 5,509 km of track renewal to prevent derailments.

Notwithstanding this fact, till November, the Railways has witnessed a total of 44 consequential train accidents including 35 derailments, with the derailment on October 10 being particularly gruesome. Seven people were killed and nine others seriously injured as the engine and eight coaches of the New Farakka Express derailed near Rae Bareli in Uttar Pradesh.

At least 13 schoolchildren lost their lives and eight others sustained injuries when a speeding passenger train crashed into a van at an unmanned railway crossing in Uttar Pradesh's Kushinagar district in April 26. The van, carrying 20 students of the Divine Mission School, Kushinagar, was badly crushed and many children died on the spot.

However, the year's worst train tragedy occurred on October 19 when a speeding train crushed 61 people to death on the tracks on Dussehra in Amritsar. The festive crowd, including women and children, had spilled over on to the track while watching the burning of Ravana's effigy.

The year has also witnessed Railways focusing more on technology to improve its functioning such as installing CCTV cameras at stations, adopting onboard condition monitoring system in coaches to strengthen maintenance and opting for Artificial Intelligence (AI) in various systems, including signalling.

In fact, the Railways went a step ahead of Artificial Intelligence to opt for Emotional Intelligence, a first in the government sector, to address its customers' problems.

The year also witnessed the opening of a limited section of the Dedicated Freight Corridor (DFC), one of its flagship projects -- though only for trials.

Moving at a snail's pace since its inception, the ambitious DFC project finally carried out its first trial in August on the 192-km-long Ateli-Phulera section of the Western Corridor followed by another trial on a 194-km section between Bhadan and Khurja in the Eastern Corridor in November.

These trials were carried out by diesel locomotives, though both DFCs are expected to be fully electrified.

Opening India's longest Bogibeel railroad bridge in Assam Bridge, to traffic and the launching of Train-18, the country's first Trainset, were significant developments.

The 4.94 km bridge, being built since 2002 at a cost of Rs 5,900 crore by the Railways, will reduce travel time from Assam and Arunachal Pradesh to four hours and will also cut down train travel between Delhi and Dibrugarh by three hours.

Billed as the next-generation train, the Rs 100 crore Train-18, the costliest so far, can run at 160 kmph and is equipped with world-class amenities to improve passenger comfort to a great extent.

(Arun Kumar Das can be contacted at akdas2005@gmail.com)

--IANS

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