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Indian Railways gears up to handle growth

01 Jun 2002

INTRO: Appointed Chairman of the Indian Railway Board on April 1, I I M S Rana has instigated a major programme of capacity expansion. Plans include more gauge conversion, new lines, track doubling and a range of other modernisation projects. Murray Hughes put questions on key issues to the new Chairman

What do you see as the main problems facing Indian Railways in 2002-03, and how do you plan to address them?

Rana: The major question facing Indian Railways is the increasing cost of staff, but there are also concerns about high costs for fuel and electric power. Set against a background of sluggish freight growth and the need to renew outdated assets, we can only address this by a multi-pronged plan of action.

IR is reducing the number of staff at the rate of 2% per annum. We are doing this by restricting the fresh intake every year to 1% while around 3% of staff take retirement. This process has to continue for another seven to 10 years.

In terms of our other costs, the State Electricity Boards are charging exorbitantly high tariffs for the electricity IR uses for traction, and IR has resorted to direct purchase of power from generating companies such as National Thermal Power Corp. We are drawing 60MW of power already in this way, which saves US$12m per annum. Another direct purchase agreement for two tranches of 60MW has been finalised and 10 more proposals are under discussion.

There has been considerable interest in the Rakesh Mohan Committee's report on IR, some details of which have already been made public. What effect will this report have on the way IR is managed, and to what extent will its recommendations be implemented?

Rana: We have set up a committee of senior railway officers to examine the recommendations given in the Rakesh Mohan Committee report and its implications. The report is still awaited, and as soon as we receive it the Railway Board will take a view on the recommendations.

IR's ability to determine its own future is influenced by strong government control over fares and freight tariffs. Is this likely to change in the future?

Rana: Governments the world over exercise some control over tariffs and the prices of commodities which affect the common man. To that extent, whatever the form of organisational structure of IR, government will continue to exert some control. However, IR is quite free in fixing its freight rates.

What plans does IR have for improving freight services and raising revenue from this source?

Rana: IR has a range of strategies to win back traffic now being carried by road. We are improving marketing for non-bulk, high value traffic not moving in block trains, and we are offering volume discounts and flexibility in rates for station-to-station traffic. At the same time we are facilitating private participation in warehousing at existing terminals with a pilot scheme planned in Bangalore. We are also formulating schemes for terminal service providers at goods sheds.

IR is trying to recapture non-bulk traffic through the use of containers. Container Corp of India Ltd is involved here, handling both domestic and international business. It is witnessing growth in the range of 15 to 20% a year, having handled over 1 million TEUs in the year to March 2001. We are running freight trains at 100 km/h, which has reduced journey time to less than half in some cases.

Other initiatives include rationalising the structure of the freight business and providing door-to-door service.

What are IR's main investment projects in 2002-10, and to what extent is private finance likely to be used?

Rana: IR has several investment imperatives for the period 2002-10. I will outline the principal objectives.

First, IR aims to eliminate the bottlenecks in the corridors forming the Golden Quadrilateral and its diagonal routes. An investment plan has been prepared, and this includes replacement of slow-moving passenger trains by EMUs or DMUs to minimise speed differentials. This will increase line capacity as well as cut transit times. Other work planned includes the construction of additional tracks on the approaches to metropolitan cities for exclusive use by suburban trains, doubling of single-track sections, and construction of road overbridges to eliminate level crossings.

IR is extending the broad-gauge network by construction of new lines, gauge conversion and track doubling. This will see 5000 route-km added to the network during the 10th Plan period, requiring investment totalling Rs163bn.

Considerable attention is being paid to improving links to ports, which have assumed greater importance. The Ministry of Shipping estimates that port traffic will grow from 386 million tonnes to 565 million tonnes during the 10th Plan. This will require development and strengthening of rail corridors linking consumer and production centres in the hinterland. Various models of public-private partnership will be used.

Investment funds are also being used to improve terminals to permit mechanised handling of goods, while another objective is to complete the construction of several major bridges that provide strategic links.

When planning investment it is important to ensure that work is developed in an integrated way to make the best possible use of technological advances in locomotives and wagons.

What plans do you have for modernising IR's rolling stock fleet in 2002-10?

Rana: Indian Railways has acquired the ability to manufacture state-of-the-art lightweight passenger coaches thanks to a technology transfer agreement with LHB of Germany, now part of Alstom. We have imported 21 diesel locomotives of 4000hp for freight haulage and 10 for passenger services from the Electro-Motive Division of General Motors. These units have three-phase AC traction motors and other state-of-the-art technology, as does a fleet of 6000hp electric locos for freight and passenger use that have been imported from Bombardier. These contracts included technology transfer, and so far IR has manufactured 34 three-phase electric locos of 6000hp, seven for passenger and 27 for freight. The first Indian-built 4000hp diesel locomotive has also been completed.

IR plans to continue this process and increase its fleet of high-speed diesel and electric locomotives through indigenous manufacture. IR also plans to acquire electric multiple-units with three-phase traction and stainless steel bodies for use on suburban services in the Mumbai area.

There is also a strategy to reduce the speed differential between freight and passenger trains to help generate more line capacity. To this end IR plans to introduce track-friendly freight wagon bogies that require less intensive maintenance, and to upgrade the existing Casnub bogie. Special purpose wagons are being introduced for carrying steel coils and cars, and we plan to acquire Locotrol technology in the future.

A special safety fund has been set up. What changes are planned to improve signalling and safety on IR?

Rana: We are aiming to improve safety in several ways. The backlog of asset renewal is to be liquidated over five years thanks to the creation of the Special Railway Safety Fund worth US$3·6bn. IR will also introduce coaches with higher crashworthiness standards, and we are starting to lay 26m long track panels to reduce the number of rail welds. Various types of anti-collision equipment are being developed, but of major significance is a decision to adopt ETCS Level 2 train control. A pilot project has been sanctioned under which 33 diesel and electric locomotives and two EMUs will be equipped. Once this is successfully implemented, it will be extended to other parts of IR.

CAPTION: IR is now building its own WAP7 electric locomotives thanks to a technology transfer agreement with Bombardier Transportation

CAPTION: Diesel multiple-units with better acceleration than loco-hauled trains are to take over more stopping passenger services on busy routes to help increase line capacity

CAPTION: IR has an initial fleet of 125 BOXNHA high capacity coal wagons designed to run at 100 km/h; IR also has container flats and covered bogie vans able to run at this speed

TABLE: Route-km of IR network by gauge at March 2001

Broad gauge (1676mm) 44776

Metre gauge 14987

Narrow gauge (762 and 610mm) 3265

Total 63028

TABLE: IR in brief 2000-01 1999-2000

Total freight carried million tonnes 504 478

Revenue-earning freight million tonnes 473 456

Revenue freight tonne-km million 312370 305201

Passenger journeys million 4833 4585

Passenger-km million 457022 430666

Staff 1545300 1577200