The past year has seen Indian Railways (IR) undergo major transformation, with the introduction of a slew of initiatives ranging from passenger amenities to infrastructure creation and structural reforms. A host of policy measures have also been initiated to enable the ease of doing business and augment revenues earned from the freight business segment.
Indian Infrastructure provides a snapshot of the key developments in the past year…
- The central government approved the incorporation of the Rail Development Authority which will be responsible for determining tariffs; setting efficiency and performance benchmarks for protecting customer interests; and ensuring a level playing field for the stakeholders.
- The Ministry of Railways (MoR) also set up a new research and development organisation – SRESHTHA (Special Railway Establishment for Strategic, Technology and Holistic Advancement) – that initiated a digitisation and enterprise resource planning initiative called One-ICT. The authority further set up the new Railway Planning and Investment Organisation to facilitate the planning and investment process and prepare detailed project reports.
- The MoR released a new Water Management Policy that aims at improving water use efficiency by setting up water recycling plants, rainwater harvesting plants, sewage treatment plants and effluent treatment plants on railway land. It has further made a provision for private participation in recycling water for non-potable use on a build-operate-own-transfer basis.
- The MoR issued a new Catering Policy, 2017, under which it has mandated that the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) unbundle the current services on trains by creating a distinction between food preparation and food distribution. The MoR has also roped in self-help groups for making local cuisines available through e-catering services provided by IRCTC. During 2016-17, e-catering services were launched at 250 stations, with a total of 408 stations now offering the same.
Passenger amenities and digital initiatives
- During the year, IR introduced dynamic surge pricing applicable to 2AC, 3AC, chair and sleeper classes on a pilot basis for the Rajdhani, Duronto and Shatabdi trains. It further offered a 10 per cent rebate in the base fare on vacant berths/seats for all trains, after the preparation of the first chart, on an experimental basis for six months. Discounted fares for two Shatabdi trains – New Delhi-Ajmer Shatabdi Express and Chennai Central-Mysore Shatabdi Express – were also introduced. A Yatri Ticket Suvidha Kendra outsourcing scheme was also launched to allow entrepreneurs to sell reserved and unreserved railway tickets.
- Meanwhile, the service charge imposed on e-tickets booked through IRCTC was terminated, leading to a rise in cashless reservations from 58 per cent to 68 per cent. The computerised passenger reservation system was also rationalised to enable passengers to buy tickets even after reservation charts were prepared. Paperless unreserved ticketing through mobile phones was introduced. Provisions were also made for accepting international debit and credit cards for payments made through the IRCTC website.
- The MoR launched a range of digital initiatives – RailCloud, a cloud computing system aimed at achieving a single digital platform for IR; NIVARAN-Grievance Portal, aimed at resolving service-related grievances of current and former railway employees; Cashless Treatment Scheme in Emergency, aimed at providing healthcare facilities to retired railway employees and their dependent family members; IRCTC-Rail Connect, a user-friendly app for greater ease of travel; and social media platforms on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to provide a 24×7 public grievance redressal system.
- IRCTC, through its website and mobile app, introduced pay-on-delivery (PoD) as one of the payment options for its customers to encourage consumers to move to online means of ticket booking. PoD charges were fixed at Rs 90 plus sales tax for transactions up to Rs 5,000 and Rs 120 plus tax for transactions over Rs 5,000.
- The capacity for reserved accommodation was increased through the provision of 41.1 million additional seats, and, moreover, an enhanced reservation quota for senior citizens and women was launched. Provisions were made for identifying vacant births for confirming waitlisted customers. An alternative train accommodation system – Vikalp – was also launched to optimise the utilisation of available seats and confirm waitlisted passengers.
- The MoR launched Phase I of the Station Redevelopment Programme comprising 23 major railway stations, for which feasibility studies have already been undertaken. These are Allahabad, Mumbai Central, Bandra Terminus, Bangalore Cantonment, Bhopal, Yesvantpur, Faridabad, Secunderabad, Pune Junction, Kozhikode, Thane Junction, Udaipur City, Ranchi, Vijayawada, Lokmanya Tilak Terminus, Kamakhya, Kanpur, Howrah, Indore, Jammu Tawi, Borivali, Visakhapatnam and Chennai Central.
- While Bansal Pathways Habibganj Private Limited achieved financial closure for the redevelopment of the Habibganj station, Kunal Structure (India) Private Limited won the contract for the redevelopment of the Gandhinagar station.
- The Rail Land Development Authority and the National Building Construction Corporation also signed an MoU for the implementation of station redevelopment projects at 10 stations – Delhi Sarai Rohilla, Lucknow, Gomti Nagar, Kota, Tirupati, Nellore, Ernakulam, Puducherry, Madgaon and Thane New – in partnership with the respective smart city authorities to obtain support relating to the development of approach infrastructure and favourable development control norms for the project.
Freight segment initiatives
- In 2016-17, several initiatives were introduced in the freight segment to improve the ease of doing business. Some of these were the introduction of a liberalised private freight terminals (PFT) policy and station-to-station special freight rate policy; new delivery models and digital initiatives; and timetabled freight services; the discontinuation of port congestion charges and season surcharges; the issuance of policy guidelines on the merry-go-round system, the coastal shipping of iron ore, and long-term tariff contracts; roll-on, roll-off scheme; the extension of an automatic freight rebate scheme; the opening of rail auto hubs; the elimination of a dual freight policy for iron ore; an expanded commodity basket to include 43 commodities for containers; rationalisation of wagon investment schemes and the parcel segment; the launch of a rationalised siding policy; and wagon leasing scheme and private freight terminals for accelerating freight movement.
- During the year, a special freight train operator scheme was launched to increase the modal share of IR in non-traditional commodities. The automobile freight train operator scheme was also launched to allow private parties to procure and operate special- purpose rakes.
- Taking a step towards accomplishing the Zero Accident mission, 1,503 unmanned level crossings (UMLCs) were eliminated in 2016-17, totalling 3,904 UMLCs eliminated over the past three years, as compared to 3,422 UMLCs eliminated in the three years prior to that. Further, the compensation paid to railway accident victims was doubled.
- A pilot was initiated using automatic warnings to road users and sensors on level crossings to enhance safety. IR also floated an expression of interest for the development of the on-board condition monitoring system for monitoring the health and safety of key components of coaches, freight cars and locomotives. Further, IR conducted successful trials of the train protection warning system at 160 km per hour (kmph) and is likely to apply this technology across the rail network.
High speed rail
- The MoR undertook trials for 160/200 kmph train sets and launched India’s first semi high speed train – the Gatiman Express – between Delhi and Agra.
- Feasibility studies for the development of high speed corridors (300 kmph and above) are currently being conducted on sections of the Diamond Quadrilateral high speed rail network (Delhi-Mumbai; Mumbai-Chennai; Delhi-Kolkata). Studies of the Delhi-Nagpur and Mumbai-Nagpur corridors are also being undertaken in cooperation with the Chinese and Spanish governments respectively
- Trial runs of the new Talgo coaches were successfully undertaken on three sections – Bareilly-Moradabad, Mathura-Palwal and Delhi-Mumbai.
- The Delhi-Mumbai and Delhi-Kolkata corridors are being developed to enable speeds of 200 kmph, with construction works worth Rs 181.63 billion already sanctioned for upgrading the capacity of the two tracks.
- Around 320 Deen Dayal coaches were manufactured by the Integral Coach Factory (ICF) in Chennai, while a total of 1,435 stations were fully equipped with LED lighting by the end of 2016-17. Further, one Tejas train, five Humsafar Express trains, two Antyodaya trains, 10 diesel electric multiple unit and 82 mainline electric multiple unit trains were launched and 28 special tourist trains for pilgrims were operated during the same period.
- Over the past three years (2014-17), speeds of 350 trains were increased, with 104 trains converted to superfast express trains in 2016-17 alone.