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Overworked tracks are what make train travel unsafe



railway track

On January 21, 2017, nine coaches and the engine of the 18448 Hirakhand (Jagdalpur-Bhubaneswar) Express derailed near Kuneru in Vizianagram district, Andhra Pradesh, killing 39 passengers and injuring 60, according to this report.

On December 28, 2016, 15 coaches of the 12987 Sealdah-Ajmer Express derailed near Rura, 70 km from Kanpur, on the Kanpur-Tundla rail stretch. Two passengers died and 65 sustained injuries, according to this report.

On November 20, 2016, 14 coaches of the 19321 Indore-Patna Express derailed near Pukhrayan, 60 km from Kanpur, in the Jhansi rail division. The mishap led to the death of 149 passengers, 182 were injured, according to this report.

Each of these derailments over the last four months occurred on over-utilised sections of the Indian Railways. These stretches were used to run trains beyond their line capacity, according to the following map.


Source: Indian Railways, Lifeline of the nation; Click here for the high-resolution image.

As much as 40% of Indian Railways’ 1,219 line sections are utilised beyond 100%, according to Indian Railways, Lifeline of the Nation, a February 2015 white paper. Technically, a section using more than 90% of its capacity is considered saturated.

Source: Indian Railways, Lifeline of the nation

The congestion rate is even higher: It is 65% on 247 high density line sections of the Indian Railways network. “The optimal utilisation should be about 80%,” said Mukut Mithi, member of the Standing Committee on Railways and a Rajya Sabha member.

Source: Indian Railways, Lifeline of the nation

Track failures and subsequent derailments are caused by twin factors–excessive traffic and underinvestment in rail infrastructure–an IndiaSpend analysis of available data shows. Consider this: There has been a 56% increase in the daily tally of passenger trains over 15 years–from 8,520 in 2000-01 to 13,313 in 2015-16. The number of freight trains increased by 59% in the same period. But the running track length for all these trains increased by only 12% in 15 years–from 81,865 km to 92,081 km.

If you consider the period from 1950 to 2016, the underinvestment in rail infrastructure appears all the more acute. Against 23% railways’ route kilometre expansion, passenger and freight traffic increased 1,344% and 1,642% respectively, the Standing Committee on Railways concluded in a December 2016 report on Safety and Security in Railways.

Fatigue of railway tracks”, not explosives, is also the reason given by Gopal Gupta, director general, railways, Uttar Pradesh Police, to explain the derailment of 14 coaches of the Indore-Patna Express near Kanpur. This had contradicted Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s sabotage claim.

Gangetic plain rail network: The most risk prone

Most of India’s high-traffic rail routes lie in the Gangetic plains, according to ‘Some insights on the recent spate of accidents in Indian Railways’, a 2012 Physica A journal paper on traffic flow along India’s express train routes. Of the 11 major accidents due to derailment or collision in 2010, eight occurred in this region, according to the paper.

The Delhi-Tundla-Kanpur segment has been identified as India’s most risk-prone express train trunk route. Of the three recent mishaps cited above, one occurred on this segment.

Rail traffic, especially in the Gangetic plains, is so excessive that “if all trains were to travel in accordance with their [Indian Railways] schedule, then the present infrastructure would not be able to handle the resultant traffic-flow”, the paper added.

Indian Railways authorities manage this situation “by making trains wait at signals”, explained the paper. This practice results in “frequent delays” and also “increases the possibility of collisions in the event of human errors such as failure of the driver to react to signals”.

Budget bonanzas add to the congestion every year

The congestion on India’s tracks grows every year with the announcement of new trains and no parallel promise of track expansion. Every new train—“typically announced during the rail budget in response to demands of the people”, said Mithi—accentuates congestion on the Indian Railways network.

Finance minister Arun Jaitley this year, for instance, announced new dedicated trains to pilgrimage and tourist centres.

Stop such practice of introduction of new trains without commensurate inputs to the infrastructure, reads the February 2012 report of the Ministry of Railways-appointed High Level Safety Review Committee, a committee appointed under the chairmanship of Anil Kakodkar to review the safety of the Indian Railways and recommend improvements.

But no one heeds this counsel. The result is that over the last 15 years, passenger kilometres, a representation of both the number of passengers and the distance they travelled, increased by 150%. And net tonne kilometres, a measure of freight hauled and the distance it has been transported, doubled.

Congestion eats into track maintenance time

Congestion reduces the headway—the time-interval between two consecutive trains running on the same route—thus increasing the chances of collisions on very busy stretches. This also eats into the time available for maintenance.

“We found a correlation between the low headway during the busiest time of the day and collision accidents,” said Niloy Ganguly, co-author of the Physica A paper and professor, department of computer science & engineering, at the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur.

Take the example of the overbusy Delhi-Kanpur segment. Between midnight and 7 am, the busiest rail traffic hours, railway staff got just 13 minutes to check the tracks, according to the Physica A paper. The rest of the day, the headway would increase to an average of 19 minutes.

It is not as though there has been no technology upgrade in the field of maintenance. Indian Railways plies track-recording cars and uses portable oscillation monitoring systems to detect defects in track geometry, which includes parameters such as track gauge, alignment, elevation, curvature and surface, said Anil Kumar Saxena, additional director general, public relations, Railway Board. To test rails and welds, Indian Railways uses the ultrasonic flaw detection testing method. Since 2016, it has been testing the ultrasonic broken rail detection system used by the South African Railway on tracks maintained by Northern Railway and North Central Railway.

To reduce weld failures compromising safety–the most likely reason for the May 4, 2014, Diva-Sawantwadi train derailment near Nidi village, Maharashtra, on the Konkan Railways, that killed 22 and injured over 150–Indian Railways has adopted improved welding methods. It has also been switching over to long rail panels on 83% of the track to minimise the need for welding.

“Indian Railways has introduced better technology of late, which speeds up work,” agreed Kulmeet Singh Chhabra, director, Projects, ISC Projects, a railways construction and maintenance company with more than 40 years of experience. “But what use is even good technology when there is insufficient time to apply it?”

Maintenance typically happens by re-jigging schedules. “To work around time shortages, we would close lines to traffic when goods trains were scheduled to pass,” recalled Sainath Naidu, former commissioner of railway safety, Bengaluru, and former chief engineer (co-ordination), South Western Railway, Indian Railways.

Why the mishaps: Slow track expansion and renewal and coach upgrades

New tracks are vital for reducing traffic bottlenecks. Two key projects launched in 2005 are the 1504 km-long western dedicated freight corridor (DFC) and the 1318 km-long eastern DFC, roughly corresponding to the overworked Mumbai-Delhi and Howrah-Delhi lines where the utilisation varies between 115% and 150%.

When commissioned, the new freight corridors will absorb 70% of the existing freight traffic on those routes, thus significantly freeing up line capacity. They will also boost the speed of freight trains from 25 kmph–where it has stood over the last three decades–to 70 kmph.

But it is unlikely that the corridors will be finished by 2019 as targeted, and here is why: The Dedicated Freight Corridor Corporation of India, the special-purpose body created to implement the projects, is expecting to fully award the civil and system contracts for the Eastern DFC only by June this year and all but one stretch awarded by the former United Progressive Alliance government are less than 50% complete, according to this update.

There is also a lag in addressing “defects in the track or rolling stock”, a cause of derailment–the most common type of rail accident–according to the Standing Committee’s December 2016 report.

In July 2014, around the time Prime Minister Narendra Modi took office, 5,300 km of track length was due for renewal, according to Indian Railways, Lifeline of the nation, a February 2015 white paper. Additionally, 4,500 km of track length comes up for renewal every year.

But track renewal targets for the last three years have been roughly half of what is needed–2,200 km, 2,500 km and 2,668 km in 2014, 2015 and 2016 respectively. The first two were achieved. This shortfall will result in “disproportionately high maintenance effort”, to quote the 2015 white paper, and possibly curtailed speeds.

Source: Indian Railways, Lifeline of the nation

“Track renewal is an ongoing process, stretches are renewed when their age and condition demand it,” said the Railways Board’s Saxena. “When stretches are not renewed in time due to the scarcity of funds or material, speed restrictions are imposed to ensure safe running.”

Old coaches made by the Integral Coach Factory, the country’s oldest coach-maker, also impose speed restrictions–a top speed of roughly 100 km per hour (kmph). Coaches from Alstom-Linke Hofmann Busch (LHB) of Germany, on the other hand, are designed for speeds upwards of 130 kmph with anti-climbing features to curtail fatalities in the eventuality of an accident.

So far, LHB coaches have been inducted only in premier services such as the Rajdhani, Shatabdi and Duronto. A policy decision to use only LHB coaches from 2018-19 will ensure other trains get them too. But the full replacement of the entire existing fleet will take longer, possibly up to 2040, this November 2016 India Today report suggested.

Level crossing accidents–the second most common type of mishaps, as Mithi noted–will continue to pose a risk till they are fully phased out, at least on the broad gauge, according to a 2016-17 railways budget decision. This year, 15% of the 9,340 level crossings have been targeted for elimination.

It means little that India has fewer accidents per million train km than Germany

In this year’s budget, following three disastrous rail accidents, safety attracted a hefty allocation. It went towards the creation of a Rashtriya Rail Sanraksha Kosh (national rail safety fund) with a five-year corpus of Rs 100,000 crore.

The government has conceded that investments in safety have been insufficient, but it has also claimed that India’s accidents per million train kilometres, a safety index, compares favourably with Europe’s. In India, this index has more or less declined over the last decade, reducing from 0.23 in 2006-07 to 0.10 in 2015-16. This figure is lower than that of France or Germany (both 0.17).

However, this does not mean that Indian Railways is as safe as European railway networks because their trains run at speeds upwards of 250 km per hour, said experts.

“Accidents per million train kilometres depends on the number of trains, which is huge in India vis-à-vis developed nations. It also depends on speed, another measure of infrastructure usage, prevailing law and order conditions, and temperature variation,” said Sukesh Kumar Sharma, a Hyderabad-based project management expert formerly with the Indian Railways.

“A direct comparison between the railway systems of India and developed nations is not possible. Our average speed is of 60-70 km per hour–only few Indian trains reach a top speed of 130 kmph that is less than half the 300-kmph top speed of trains in developed nations. India’s low index paints a misleadingly rosy picture,” Sharma added.

(Bahri is a freelance writer and editor based in Mount Abu, Rajasthan.)


Global sell-off drags Indian equities to 5-month lows




Mumbai, March 24 : A global sell-off triggered by trade protectionist measures imposed by major world economies unleashed the bears in the Indian equity markets during the week, pushing the key indices — NSE Nifty50 and BSE Sensex — to their 5-month lows.

Apart from the prospects of escalating trade wars, the risk-taking appetite of investors was marred by rising crude oil prices, the ongoing turmoil in the domestic banking system as well as the uncertainty on the political situation in the country.

On a weekly basis, the barometer 30-scrip Sensitive Index (Sensex) of the BSE shed 579.46 points or 1.75 per cent to close at 32,596.54 points — its lowest closing level since October 23, 2017.

On the National Stock Exchange (NSE), the wider Nifty50 ended below the psychologically important 10,000-mark and closed trade at 9,998.05 points — down 197.1 points or 1.93 per cent from its previous week’s close — its lowest closing level since October 11, 2017.

“Benchmark indices Sensex and Nifty fell 1.75 per cent and 1.93 per cent respectively during the week, posting their longest stretch of weekly losses in 16 months as the domestic market joined a global sell-off triggered by prospects of a trade war,” Arpit Jain, Assistant Vice President at Arihant Capital Markets, told IANS.

According to D.K. Aggarwal, Chairman and Managing Director of SMC Investments and Advisors, the global stock market traded lower after US President Donald Trump announced sweeping tariffs on Chinese goods, a move that has heightened concerns that the global trade war will escalate.

“Back at home, dragged by escalating trade tensions among global economies, the Indian stock market too witnessed selling pressure amid other domestic factors. Since the beginning of the year domestic market witnessed some hiccups on the back of imposition of LTCG (long term capital gains) tax, liquidity issues, rising bond yields and volatile global markets,” Aggarwal told IANS.

“Also, a surge in crude oil prices impacted the market sentiment. The Indian rupee, too, witnessed a volatile move ahead of Fed rate-hike and global trade war concerns,” he added.

On the currency front, the rupee weakened by eight paise to close at 65.01 against the US dollar from its previous week’s close at 64.93.

“Sentiments were affected by rising crude oil prices, bond yields and a troubled domestic banking system. Uncertainty around the political situation in the country added to the woes, and collectively dragged the sentiment across the street,” Gaurav Jain, Director at Hem Securities, told IANS.

Provisional figures from the stock exchanges showed that foreign institutional investors purchased scrips worth Rs 2,524.13 crore and the domestic institutional investors (DIIs) scrips worth Rs 211.91 crore during the week.

Figures from the National Securities Depository (NSDL) revealed that foreign portfolio investors invested in equities worth Rs 2,060.04 crore, or $316.99 million, during March 19-23.

“The market breadth was negative in three out of the five trading sessions of the week. The top sectoral losers were realty, metal, Bank Nifty and pharma indices. There were no gainers,” said Deepak Jasani, Head – Retail Research, HDFC Securities.

The top weekly Sensex gainers were: NTPC (up 2.90 per cent at Rs 170.15); IndusInd Bank (up 1.36 per cent at Rs 1,750.20); Power Grid (up 1.04 per cent at Rs 194.25); Hindustan Unilever (up 0.05 per cent at Rs 1,299.75); and Larsen and Toubro (up 0.01 per cent at Rs 1,267.75).

The losers were: Yes Bank (down 8.37 per cent at Rs 286.70); ICICI Bank (down 7.48 per cent at Rs 275.80); State Bank India (down 7.13 per cent at Rs 234.60); Tata Steel (down 5.65 per cent at Rs 566.60); and Axis Bank (down 4.29 per cent at Rs 501).

(Porisma P. Gogoi can be contacted at [email protected])

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24% scheme performance indicators of Delhi government ‘off track’



Manish Sisodia

An average 23.7 per cent of output and outcome indicators for various programmes and schemes of the Delhi government departments were “off track” till December last year, analysis of a report tabled in the Delhi Assembly on Wednesday suggested.

The 23.7 per cent of indicators were off track for schemes and programmes of 14 major departments, including Health, Social Welfare and Education, for which funds were allocated in the Delhi Budget 2017-18, according to an IANS analysis of Status Report of the Outcome Budget 2017-18.

The Status Report was presented by Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia.

In the report, the indicators — output and outcome of schemes and programmes — of a department were used to denote whether their schemes were on or off track. Here off track implies the performance or progress of indicators of major schemes of a particular department (till December 2017) was less than 70 per cent of the expected progress.

With 45 per cent indicators off track, the Public Works Department’s schemes performed worst, followed by the Transport Department and the Environment Department, each having 40 per cent of indicators for schemes off track.

The departments whose schemes performed well include the Directorate of Education with 89 per cent indicators of schemes on-track, followed by the Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board (DUSIB) with 87 per cent schemes on track and the Delhi Jal Board with 82 per cent programmes on track.

Sisodia said that idea behind the Outcome Budget was to bring a high degree of accountability and transparency in public spending.

The Outcome Budget, which coveres 34 departments of the government, was termed as the “first of its kind” in the country.

Citing an example of Mohalla Clinics, Sisodia said a regular budget tells only about the money allocated for the construction of clinics, while Outcome Budget is about the number of clinics built and the number of people expected to benefit from it.

The Outcome Budget measures each scheme using two indices: output and outcome.

The infrastructure created or services offered due to spending on a particular scheme is termed as output, whereas the number of people benefited and how is termed as outcome.

(Nikhil M. Babu can be contacted at [email protected])

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Will Drabu’s ouster impact PDP-BJP alliance in J&K?

While even Mehbooba’s political adversaries, including the National Conference President, Dr. Farooq Abdullah, have welcomed her decision, her allies in the BJP are not happy at all about her decision.



Jammu, March 15 : The decision by Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti to drop Haseeb Drabu from her council of ministers for his remarks at a business meet in Delhi is being hotly debated in political circles – especially what its consequences could be on the state’s PDP-BJP ruling coalition.

By doing what she has done, the Chief Minister has proved that she is prepared take political risks — and taking her for granted is something her colleagues and allies should learn not to do.

Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) leaders were aghast after Drabu, who was the Finance Minister, was quoted as telling a meeting organised by the PHD Chamber of Commerce and Industry in New Delhi that Kashmir was not a political problem and a conflict state but a “social problem”. He said this while seeking investments in the state from businessmen and saying the conditions in the state were conducive to business “where you will find some very interesting opportunities” not just to make money but also to have “a lot of fun and enjoy yourselves”.

PDP Vice President Sartaj Madni had said this was something which negated the very existence of the PDP because it is the firm belief of the party that Kashmir is political problem that needed political remedies to resolve.

Interestingly, instead of voices being raised in Drabu’s favour by his own party men, leaders of the PDP’s coalition unlikely partner Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) seem to be more worried about the decision to drop him.

Some senior BJP leaders have rushed to Delhi to discuss the development and its fallout on the ruling coalition with the central leadership of the party.

How important Drabu had been for the PDP was proved not once, but many times in the past. The late Mufti Muhammad Sayeed trusted him to work out the terms of the agenda of alliance with BJP National Secretary Ram Madhav that finally paved the way for the present PDP-BJP coalition.

“Mufti Sahib always loved him and would overlook what some of his party men would say about Drabu Sahib,” said a PDP insider, not wishing to be identified.

In a letter released to the media after he was dropped from the cabinet, Drabu expressed sorrow for not being told by the Chief Minister or her office about the decision to drop him.

“I read it on the website of daily ‘Greater Kashmir’. I tried to call the Chief Minister, but was told she was busy and would call back. I waited, but my call was never returned,” he rued.

He also said in his letter that he had been quoted out of context by the media and that he what he had said was that Kashmir is not only a political problem, but that “we must also look beyond this”, Drabu clarified.

Sayeed made Drabu his economic advisor during his 2002 chief ministerial tenure and later made him the chairman of the local Jammu and Kashmir Bank. In fact, Drabu became the point man between the PDP and the BJP after the 2014 assembly elections.

The problem is that many PDP leaders had of late started saying that Drabu was more of “Delhi’s man in Kashmir rather than Kashmir’s man in Delhi”. Drabu is reportedly very close to Ram Madhav, the powerful BJP leader who is in-charge of Kashmir affairs, which many say “cost him his job”. It is this image that has been floating around in the PDP that finally cost him his berth in the state cabinet.

While even Mehbooba’s political adversaries, including the National Conference President, Dr. Farooq Abdullah, have welcomed her decision, her allies in the BJP are not happy at all about her decision.

“What did he say? He said it is a social problem and Kashmir is a society in search of itself. Is this wrong? We don’t think this is something for which such a harsh decision should have been taken,” a senior BJP leader told IANS, not wanting to be named.

His successor, Syed Altaf Bukhari, who has been assigned the finance portfolio, took a major decision immediately after taking over. Bukhari announced that the decision to replace the old treasury system by the Pay and Accounts Office (PAO) has been put on hold. The ambitious PAO system was Drabu’s brainchild.

Bukhari’s decision has been welcomed by hundreds of contractors in the state who had been on strike during the last 13 days demanding their pending payments and suspension of the PAO system at least till March 31.

Would Drabu’s ouster be a storm in a teacup or would it have repercussions on the PDP-BJP ruling alliance in the immediate future? Ironically, Drabu’s PDP colleagues say it won’t be, while the BJP leaders in the state say it would.

By : Sheikh Qayoom

(Sheikh Qayoom can be contacted at [email protected])

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