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Railways on cusp of strategic and operational transformation

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Indian Railways is El Dorado for number nerds and trivia experts. As of 31st March 2017 it had largest track network in world at 67,368 kms; 11,461 locomotives doing hauling duty; 64,223 passenger service vehicles ferrying people; 2,77,9987 wagons lugging freight; 7,349 stations across the country and 1,308,000 employees. Railways carried almost 8.1 billion passengers during 2016-17.

These numbers are staggering and give us sense of challenge an administration faces while managing this mammoth organization. This gets amplified several times if one is looking to transform Railways both Strategically and Operationally while ensuring that everything runs as smooth as possible. With Piyush Goyal at helm, Railways are trying to achieve exactly that.

We are at cusp of transformation of Indian Railways. Over last few months number of extremely Significant Strategic Plans and Operational Initiatives have been announced and are being implemented that shall change Railways forever. One can write reams on these plans and initiatives but let me present the key ones.

Operational Excellence

Indian Railways present perhaps largest logistics operations challenge in the world. In such a scenario, simplification and use of enabling technologies have tremendous advantages to offer.

Trains Run Faster During Fog

Fog season from December to January is notorious for cancellations, delays, and passenger inconvenience. But this Fog of Disruptions during winters is lifting with Railways adopting Fog Safety Devices on its trains. Use of these devices enables Loco Pilots to run at 75 kmph, up from present 60 kmph, during inclement weather.

Fog Safety Devices are GPS enabled and alert pilots about approaching signals. Without devices, pilots literally run their trains at snails’ pace to see the signals. Northern Railway, that is worst affected during Winter Fog Season, has 800 such devices in use. Besides making train operations significantly safer during inclement weather, use of Fog Safety Devices cuts train delays, reduces cancellations, improves passenger convenience, and decreases employee stress during critical situations.

Trains with 22 Coaches to Run on Any Route

Indian Trains have either ICF or LHB coaches and are anywhere between 12 to 26 coaches long. Varying length of trains makes it impossible for Railways to substitute rakes, address delays, ensure quick turnarounds, and provide for ease of operations. And this has been so for decades.

In pursuit of Simplification of Operations, Railways are planning to standardize length of rakes. All trains in Railways shall have 22 coaches. Benefits of such standardization are manifold – trains shall be able to run on any route, delays shall be minimized as available trains shall be pressed into service, trains shall have quick turnaround owing to standardization of maintenance crews and equipment among others.

As part of First Phase of Implementation, Railways have identified 300 groups of trains and routes. Of course such standardization demands that platforms be of certain minimum length, washing lines be adequately long and filling lines be of appropriate length.

Strategic Transformation

Railways have been in stupor for decades with trains running at almost same speeds as they ran 40 years ago, and archaic signaling that is mix of manual, semi-automatic or automatic in patches. Railways need Transformation to keep pace with Rapidly Changing India.

Semi High Speed Trains on Horizon

National Highway Development Program changed face of surface transport in India forever. Highways became four lane or six lane, travel speeds increased, and change continues today with Expressways coming up all across country. Similar Transformation awaits Indian Railways.

Speeds of Indian trains have been relatively stagnant for last three decades. Gatiman Express is fastest train in India at 160 KMPH, Shatabdi and Rajdhani Express Trains run at average speeds in range of 80 KMPH and so termed Superfast Trains travel at average speeds in range of 70 KMPH.

Railways are on verge of announcing Semi High Speed Network connecting major cities of India. This network shall be over 10,000 KM long and enable trains to run at 200-250 KMPH. It shall require rolling stock upgradation, large scale track renewal, modern signaling and employee re-skilling; in effect change face of Railways in India for ever. No doubt, the Semi High Speed Network shall entail significant investment but benefits shall be manifold. It shall serve as boost for whole economy, and favorably impact productivity across spectrum. Higher speeds shall significantly cut travel times especially for overnight journeys and passengers shall get ample time for their official work and families alike.

Modern Signaling for Safer Rail Travel

Railways are beset with legacy signaling system, compromising safety. If Railways have to go to next level, modernization of Signaling System is imperative.

Union minister Piyush Goyal has laid out comprehensive plan to completely overhaul signaling system of Railways. To be implemented over a period of six years, Railways shall adopt signaling system on lines of European Train Control System (ETCS). It shall be most modern in world, and cover entire 67,368 route kms.

Advantages of such system are many including Safer Travel, Speedier Trains, and Lesser Crime. Since scale of the system shall be unprecedented, lakhs of jobs shall be created and economies of scale shall mean we may also be in position to export technologies developed.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaks of Indian Railways as being Life Line of India. Transform this Life Line and You Transform India. Time to Transform is now.

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