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Indian Railways zooms ahead in 2005
J Ahmed | December 26, 2005
Indian Railways was on its way to making record profits to shore up its finances in 2005 despite the political 'derailment' of Railway Minister Lalu Prasad on his home turf in Bihar where his party lost power after 15 years' rule.
But the key area of concern - rail travel safety - remains strongly in focus as four major accidents took place during the year resulting in the death of about 148 persons and injuries to at least 300.
Indian Railways steamed ahead during the year making record profit of over Rs 7,000 crore that sustains financial viability to the National carrier which had earlier been projected being on way to bankruptcy.
"Hard work by lakhs of railwaymen have converted the loss making railways into a profit making organisation...I am fully confident that during this year we will be making more than the targeted achievements in several fields. We are determined to make a record profit of at least Rs 7,000 crore" Railway Minnister Lalu Prasad said in Parliament.
Replyig to debates in both the Houses of Parliament, he said by the end of this year, the operating ratio will come down to 88 per cent and Fund Balance will be reach a record high of Rs 10,000 crore (Rs 100 billion).
The economic resurgence of Indian Railways under Lalu Prasad was appreciated by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh who, in a letter to the Railway Minister, lauded the initiatives taken by him in the areas of freight loading and passenger traffic, wagon turnaround time, which have shown remarkable improvement in Railways' overall performance.
A top railway ministry Official told PTI that the key to the sea changes ushered in by the Railways during the year has been focusing the organisation on its business orientation and redefining its approach towards profitability that sustains financial viability.
Keeping this in view, he said an array of initiatives were taken to unshackle the Indian Railways help realise its immense potential.
While these initiatives were intended to benefit both the freight traffic customers and passengers alike, the underlying principle behind them was to achieve a high degree of customer satisfaction.
The resultant transformation was not just cyclical (driven by a booming economy and trade) but equally structural in nature (driven by fundamental improvements in the railways functioning), railway officials said.
Prasad said the Railways had not only achieved the revenue targets set for this year but had also managed to register growth in many commercial operations.
"Against a 33 million tonne expected growth in loading for 2005-06, we have already crossed 37 million tonne, which translates into a growth of 112 per cent," the Minister pointed out.
He said that against the targeted loading of 635 million tonnes for this fiscal, as estimated in this year's rail budget, actual loading could be over 660 million tonnes, which will be higher by as much as 58 million tonnes.
Following his promises to make the Indian Railways one of the best, Prasad made the highest allocation in decades to its depreciation and development funds--indicating that it is investing in its future, rather than feeding on it.
This was done despite the fact that just four years ago in July 2001, an expert group headed by Dr Rakesh Mohan had found that the Indian Railways was "on the verge of a financial crisis....and operationally in a terminal debt trap".
The railways initiated several measures including adoption of suitable technology for interlocking and signalling system, upgradation standards of track and rolling stock, modernisation of maintenance practices, replacement of over- aged assets, provision of Anti-Collision Devices and upgradation of training aide like simulators.
Keeping his promises that Railway's will be "friendly with Aam Aadmi", Railway Minister adhered to his promises not to increase passenger fare rather reduced it by a rupee.
Combined with the immense reach and affordability of prices of Indian Railways, these initiatives have the potential of giving the Airlines a run for their money.
One such facility launched by Railways during the year is the scheme for e-ticketing, SMS booking of tickets was another step taken by the IRCTC to facilitate booking of Railway tickets.
In another major initiative to mop up resources, the Railway Minister had announced that any holder of a wait-listed ticket can be allotted accommodation in a higher class if seats remain vacant in the next higher class.
A sleeper class wait-listed passenger could get a confirmation in 3rd AC or a 3rd AC wait-listed passenger could get a confirmation in 2nd AC and so on and need not to pay any extra money for it.
The Railways will soon allow change of date, class or des destination of wait-list tickets and Tatkal tickets can be booked three days in advance, unlike the 24 hours, now and passengers don't have to travel with ID cards.
Railways is also planning transformation in the Passenger Enquiry System by setting up a chain of call centres with a large number of phone lines to cater to the requirements of passengers all over the country. Two such call centres are functioning at Patna and Bangalore.
The year saw the introduction of the computerisation of parcel management initiated by the Railways covering the entire gamut of parcel operations including booking, loading, tracking, tracing delivery and internet--based enquiry.
The introduction of freight concession was announced by the Railway Minister offering 15 per cent rebate on the additional loading after attaining the benchmark "110 per cent" at the sidings, which had registered 10 per cent growth in loading during the lean period from 1 July to 30th September against the corresponding period last year.
After crossing the 600 million tonnes target for annual freight last year, Railways spelt out an 'Action Plan' for achieving the 770 million tonnes target this year.
The total approximate earnings of railways on originating basis during the period from first April, 2005 to 31st October 2005 was Rs 29,933.68 crore (Rs 299.33 billion) compared to Rs 26,067.29 crore (Rs 260.67 billion) during the corresponding period last year, making an increase of 14.83 per cent, 4.87 per cent more than the budget target of Rs 28,544.16 crore (Rs 285.44 billion).
While passenger earning during the period was Rs 8.87 crore (Rs 88.7million), an increase of 8.89 per cent over Rs 8,152.22 crore (Rs 81.52 billion) during the same period last year, the total goods earning was Rs 19,861.93 crore (Rs 198.61 billion), registering an increase of 6.25 per cent over the budget target of Rs 18,693.09 crore.
In yet another important development, Parliament had passed Rail Land Development Authority Bill to commercially utilise Railways 43,000 hectare vacant land.
So far, 61 major sites involving an area of 180 hectares of the Railway land having commercial potential were identified, out of these nine sites with the value of Rs 21 crore (Rs 210 million) have been finalised.
Railways is also planning to set up an exclusive coal freight-corridor to meet the projected demand from the sector. The plan, still at the conceptual stage will be in addition to the already approved Rs 60,000 crore (Rs 600 billion) rail freight corridor aimed at boosting railway earnings.
While the year saw Nilgiri Mountain Railway inscribed by the UNESCO as World Heritage Sites, Railways has also proposed similar status for Kalka-Simla Railway.
In its international reach, Indian Railway's public sector undertaking RITES and IRCON International Ltd are exploring overseas markets for exporting more locomotives.
RITES has supplied five locomotives to Vietnam and three to Bangladesh and four locomotives to Sudan between 2002-05.
IRCON International Ltd has temporarily exported meter gauge locomotives to Malaysia on lease-cum-maintenance basis during the last three years. Presently IRCON has 25 locomotives working in Malaysia.PTI