Prabhu aims to Transform India through Transforming Railways

NEW DELHI: Prime Minister Narendra Modi firmly believed that Indian Railway has the potential to become the backbone of India’s progress and economic development. Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu with this vision is working hard to transform India through transforming Indian Railways.

18 months ago, when Suresh Prabhu took over the reigns of India’s transport behemoth the Indian Railways, he was faced with many challenges and he had the option of making small incremental changes or, go beyond business as usual. He chose the latter.

Bringing in systemic changes was the need of the hour. It was important for Suresh Prabhu to change the perception of Indian Railways from a slow moving behemoth to a responsive modern organization. Today it is satisfying for him to note that he could make some progress with the association of gallant folk of Indian Railwaymen.  However, he feels a lot is still to be done.

“our Prime Minister has asserted many times that our Government’s priority is the commonest of common man of the country and it is with this in mind, we worked on improving the travel experience for our people. We launched a host of initiatives aimed at this”, he mentions. An eBook was released by the Ministry under the leadership of Suresh Prabhu on the two year performance and achievements of Indian Railways which can be downloaded here: of the important achievements and milestones Suresh Prabhu achieved in his 18 months tenure are:

  • Railways, under the leadership of Suresh Prabhu as its Union Minister of Railways, commissioned record 2,828 kms of Broad Gauge lines which is 85% higher than 2009-14 average annual commissioning. It may be noted that 7.7 kms lines commissioned per day as against the average of 4.3 kms during 2009-14. This is the fastest pace ever since the evolution of Railways in India from 1853.
  • Capital expenditure in 2015-16 was about Rs.94,000 Crore which is almost double the average annual capital expenditure over the previous five-year period of 2009-14.
  • Electrification of 1730 kms completed during the last 18 months is a huge jump over 2009-14 annual average of 1184 kms.
  • Indian Railways also become one of the most proactive towards redressal of various complaints through the responsive 24×7 complaint resolution mechanism employed through the use of social media and other mechanisms.
  • In terms of Cleanliness in the Railway stations and in upcountry areas, Railways launched Swachh Rail, Swachh Bharat, Clean My Coach Services apart from deploying Bio-toilets in association with DRDO for many passenge trains, which have given best results in cleanliness.  There have been an efficient monitoring, maintenance and operation practice internalised today extensively on IR.
  • Railways even conducted a third party cleanliness audit in stations across various zonal railways. It is for the first time in the history of Indian Railways that tracks are now visibly clean even in the remotest parts of the country, with no dirt, stench, garbage in and around the railway areas.
  • E-catering, E-wheelchair, E-bedroll facilities launched by Indian Railways to ensure seamless availability and access to these facilities have given good results.
  • Railways have also streamlined the Concession Procedures and resolved various issues, governing the Id Cards for Physically Handicapped so that they need not struggle to run around the Railway Divisions/Zones for availing this facility.
  • On Ticketing front, IRCTC capacity was increased, Automatic ticket vending machines installed, cancellation of PRS tickets through cell phone launched, Vikalp scheme were quickly launched.
  • As regards Speed of Trains, India’s first semi high speed train Gatimaan Express was launched and it is a successful initiative by IR in the last 18 months on various sections.  Now the Trial run of Talgo Coaches  is underway. Once Talgo make Highspeed trains are proved to be beneficial, Railways can achieve average 160 Kms speed for various passenger trains across the country which will contribute for increased Operational efficiency and thus contribute for higher revenues.
  • Railway Connectivity to the frontier portions of the Northeast India was further strengthened with Barak Valley of Assam, Agartala, Mizoram and Manipur connected to Broad Gauge lines.
  • High speed Wi-Fi launched at various stations with a target of 400 stations by 2018.
  • Environment: A provision of 1% of total project cost made in all future projects to spend on environment protection measures, major thrust on solar and wind energy provided, traditional lights replaced by environment friendly LED lights.
  • 100% E-tendering implemented resulting in transparent and accountable procurement process.

While there are visible achievements by Suresh Prabhu as the Railway Minister, still the Railway system is very much in need of certain leap-forward steps to be taken for implementation of Accounting Reforms, Information Technology enabled solutions and export of products to non-IR industry by the Railways owned Production Plants etc.  Hopefully, the accounting reforms will be in place by 2017.  however, in terms of best IT practices, Railways is far behind and is yet to catch up with the speed of IT.

Today, Indian Railways is vulnerable to Cyber Security, as per industry experts; and it may be a point of concern that Railways is yet to give priority for creation an IT enabled Enterprise Architecture kind of a solution for Indian Railways, and is yet to transform Railways with the best IT solutions to achieve higher results. Prabhu should also concentrate on Network Security, Big Data Privacy, IOT, policy, Cyber Security Policy, Digitization of Employee Records, ERP rollout, Real-time Executive Dashbaord for better management at the Board, Zonal, Divisional, Workshops and Institutes level, with robust IT Program Management practices, Mobility in Governance etc.  Railways require to create a Member grade Chief Information Officer at Board level and create DGM-IT ranks at Zonal levels to achieve Prabhu’s mission to transform India through transforming Indian Railways!

While it should not be forgotten the important role Indian Railways has to play in reducing the carbon footprint and paralelly serious infrastructure constraint to further GDP growth. To take the most obvious example, if coal does not move, there can be no electricity supply to power India’s industrial/services growth. In absolute terms, transport investment needs to rise seven-fold from the 11th Plan to the 15th Plan (2027-32), or from 2.6% of GDP right now to 3.7% in another few years and then be sustained at that level. Apart from the fact that a one percentage point step up is a big one, much of the investment will have to come from the public sector—in the original simulations, the private share was expected to rise to around 25-30% over a decade but the sad state of private infrastructure firm balance sheets shows this was way too optimistic.

More than the money which is a big challenge, it is clear the present Railway Board-led governance structure cannot pull off this transformation. Apart from the criticality of building the railway network for GDP growth, India’s Paris goals depend upon increasing the railways’ share in local transport from 36% right now to 45% by 2030—the six freight corridors will lower India’s cumulative railway emissions from 1.26 billion tonnes between 2016-2046 to 0.29 billion tonnes, and to 0.09 billion in a low-carbon scenario. India can’t afford to slip up on widening its tracks. For the purpose of export, these units can even make products in gauges not generally found on the Indian Railway network, such as the standard gauge. It has also emphasised on building modern three-phase metre-gauge locomotives and diesel-electric multiple units (DEMU) as both these products have a high potential in certain foreign markets.

Plans for increasing non-fare revenue, creating corpus for various production plants, to develop new products for export markets, quality upgrade of products for export are the need of the hour. The task is daunting. All production units put together earn about Rs.300 crore by selling products to firms and countries apart from the Indian Railways, (something the IR calls non-fare revenue). Currently, one of the biggest export orders with the railways is the construction of 120 LHB coaches for Bangladesh Railways. These coaches are being built at the Rail Coach Factory (RCF)-Kapurthala in Punjab. IR should plan is to get all Production Units under the Indian Railways to have an export target of at least Rs.500 crore is a welcome sign. It is tough but it is time these units stepped up to the challenge. By making standard gauge products, the railways can also cater to various Indian cities where metro railway systems are coming up on standard gauge (for example Mumbai’s Versova-Ghatkopar metro)”.

While Suresh Prabhu continue to make his journey on this noble mission of “Transforming India through Transforming Railways”, he needs increased support and proactive participation from not only his colleagues at Board/ Zonal/Divisional Railways, but also from the entire industry and socio-political fraternity together to make the Indian Railways better.


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