The Indian Railways will exceed the targeted freight traffic of 1,047 million tonnes (mt) set for the current fiscal, according to Arunendra Kumar, who has taken over as the Chairman of Railway Board.
“So far, we’ve exceeded the pro-rata target by three per cent,” Kumar told pointing out that the throughputs of all major items, except cement, were up. “The cement throughput has not been as buoyant as expected but the growth of coal traffic has been particularly good.”
A mechanical engineer from Jamalpur-based Indian Railway Institute of Mechanical & Electrical Engineering, Kumar joined the Indian Railways in 1976. He was appointed Member (Mechanical), Railway Board, in May and was given additional charge of Chairman, Railway Board, in July this year, following retirement of Vinay Mittal.
The new Railway Board Chairman identified improvement of the financial health of the Indian Railways as one of the thrust areas. “We’re exploring various options,” he said. “Fuel adjustment factor has already been introduced.” He, however, declined to comment if there would be further hikes in freight and fare.
The targeted growth in passenger earnings for the current yearhad been set at highest ever, as much as 32 per cent over the previous year whereas the increase so far had been around 17-18 per cent, he added.
Among other priorities are stepping up safety, fast-tracking prioritised projects and ensuring good travelling experience to passengers. Nearly 50 per cent of rail accidents took place at unmanned level-crossings whose number must be reduced as far as possible. “The target to remove all unmanned level-crossings within five years is proposed to be achieved in four years, by 2016-17,” he said. “Also, more railway underpasses and railway overbridges will be constructed”. An estimated 40 per cent of the total number of 31,254 railway level-crossings were unmanned, he said.
Another area on safety front which would receive a good deal of attention was rail weld failures. The efforts so far in this regard left much to be desired. Providing better working environment for loco pilots too would be on the priority list, he added.
Indian Railwayshad identified 344 projects whose implementation would be fast-tracked, he said. “We will ask General Managers to hold review meetings every two weeks to monitor the progress,” he said and indicated that in some cases re-appropriation of funds from one project to another might be needed.
As for ensuring good travelling experience to railway passengers, his view was that no passenger should wait for more than 15 minutes in a queue for buying tickets. Opening more ticket counters should not be a problem. Cleanliness and upgrading the quality of food too were high on the agenda, he said expressing hope that the recent hike in rates should go a long way in achieving it. The target of equipping each coach with bio-toilets was progressing satisfactorily across the country. “This year, we’ll exceed the target of 3,000 and achieve 3500,” he said, adding the job – installing an estimated 2.2 lakh bio-toilets in 65,000 coaches — was huge. “I’ve no doubt that by 2017, all new coaches rolling out will have bio-toilets.