Transforming Indian Railways: Keynote address by Ajit Pandit, Additional Member, Railway Board

Keynote address by Ajit Pandit, Additional Member, Railway Board

India Infrastructure recently organised a roundtable on “Transforming Indian Railways – The Role of Technology”. The keynote address, which was delivered by Ajit Pandit, additional member, Railway Board, highlighted the recent initiatives undertaken by Indian Railways (IR). Key takeaways from the address…

The primary concern of IR is to ensure the safety and security of its passengers. However, over the past few years, the number of accidents occurring on IR’s network has increased mainly due to rail fractures. This has led to IR shifting most of its resources towards the replacement and maintenance of tracks to ensure passenger safety. Further, to eliminate the existing bottlenecks, increase operational efficiency and improve the utilisation of railway tracks, IR has planned to unify the rail gauges in operation. It is progressing towards track unigauge (broad gauge) and plans to eliminate narrow gauge (except on a few heritage lines) and metre gauge in the next two-three years.

The development of high speed rail (HSR) projects has garnered much attention in India recently. IR is developing an HSR line between Mumbai and Ahmedabad to compete with air transport. The foundation stone for the project was laid in September 2017 and it is expected to be completed by 2022. The line will eventually be extended to Delhi. IR has further stressed the need for the proliferation of such routes for the sustained expansion of the HSR network in the country.

Increasing the speed of both freight and passenger trains is another thrust area for IR. This can only be achieved by segregating passenger traffic from freight traffic. To facilitate this, Dedicated Freight Corridor Corporation of India Limited (DFCCIL) was incorporated to develop, operate and maintain dedicated freight corridors (DFCs) by 2020. Trains will operate at a speed of 75-100 km per hour on DFCs.

Moreover, realising the need for reducing diesel imports and contributing towards sustainability, IR is going ahead with the complete electrification of rail lines in the country. To facilitate this, it is ensuring that all new projects that are sanctioned are compliant with the new electrification standards. Plans have been announced to electrify around 4,000 km of rail tracks in 2018.

The upgradation and modernisation of the suburban rail network has recently received enormous attention from the government. Greater emphasis is being laid on increasing the speed and frequency of suburban rail systems as it forms a major part of public transport in cities such as Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai and caters to the needs of commuters. For accommodating increasing demand, enhancing capacity and improving service frequency, IR plans to construct elevated tracks and underground networks to expand commuter rail services.

IR has always emphasised the need to connect the country’s remote areas. Thus, to accomplish this and ensure better connectivity, IR is taking several measures and developing policies to connect underdeveloped areas. This has, in turn, put a huge burden on the central government budget which is already being utilised for several development projects. IR has thus expressed the need to form joint ventures with states. This will effectively utilise states’ untapped resources, thereby ensuring that priority projects get immediate funds. Moreover, the timeline to complete railway projects has recently been reduced from five-seven years to two-three years. IR has modified its approach and now sees to the timely award of contracts to ensure the completion of work and commencement of services within the scheduled time frame.

Many small yet important initiatives have been taken in the railway sector. For instance, cameras have been installed at project sites to keep track of project progress. There is a significant shift from manual labour and maintenance to mechanised maintenance.

In order to ensure that IR dominates the market for freight and passenger movement, it is putting in a lot of effort and becoming more competitive. To this end, it has taken a wide range of initiatives to develop, upgrade and modernise the railway network in the country. It has modified its approach tremendously to cater to rapidly increasing demands of passengers in terms of security and services. Using technology as a tool, IR is transforming the rail network from merely being a transport provider to providing connectivity to all parts of the country.