A Turnaround Needed

Source: The Hitavada      Date: 08 Oct 2017 11:47:37


Railways is such a gargantuan organisation that unless there is a very strong system of checks and balances with very efficient, honest and strict officers at the helm, it is easy to lose control of the giant functioning and let laxity and corruption make inroads.

 

Railways undoubtedly need a thorough rejig. It is still based loosely on the British system that was in vogue a century back. The whole work culture by virtue of habit and tradition is rusted, obsolete and laid back, still in the steam engine era mode. Today we need a robust, modern and upmarket way of looking and managing it.

WITH a string of accidents over the recent past, the image and credibility of railways have taken a big dent. Millions of Indians depend on railways for their commuting and travel needs, and an incident with the railways affects national sentiments and raises hackles for every stakeholder.


Safety has been a concern for the railways for years and despite staggered improvements, overall the safety standard still remains below par. We still don’t have LHB bogies on all trains, which are considered safer than conventional bogies we have. LHB (Linke Hofmann Busch) coaches have technology which ensures passenger safety during an event of collision or derailment.


An LHB coach has most of its heavier components under the passenger cabins, which also prevents crushing of coaches lengthwise. Fire fighting arrangements are poor. Hundreds of bridges are old and decrepit.
There are thousands of kilometres of tracks which need replacement. A signalling system in several sections is still archaic and needs replacement by automatic signalling.


Tracks are clogged with traffic, which puts pressure on them and any instance of the smallest human error enhances the risk factor manifolds. Apart, burglaries and thefts on trains and unhygienic food and general filth are common complaints that plague the system. For decades these things haven’t changed. Rail accidents and fatalities in India are among the highest in the world. Taking these factors into consideration, newly-appointed Railway Board Chairman Ashwani Lohani has recently said safety will be the focus area of railways, which is at a critical juncture and faces an ‘image perception’ problem.

“At this critical juncture when we are facing a serious issue with the image perception of the railways, I expect all my fellow railwaymen to pitch in wholeheartedly to set this perception right,” Lohani wrote to the employees of the largest passenger carrier in the country which ferries three crore people daily.


“We have to instill a renewed sense of confidence in our esteemed passengers.... railways has suffered a serious dent in the recent past due to certain unfortunate incidents,” the former Air India CMD wrote. He also identified the quality of catering, linen, and cleanliness, which he said was crying for attention, as other areas of concern and stressed the need to adopt a mission mode to bring improvements in a very short time.
Since financial crunch is a perennial problem with railways that delays or stalls many of its development projects, Lohani also said operating cost had to be brought down and sources of revenue needed to be explored.


Improving the financial health of railways should be among the top priorities of the Government because for things to change rapidly, any system needs ample money. When money and resources are in short supply,
quality is bound to be hit. Corruption further scuttles possibilities.


To make railways a smart organisation, corruption has to be dealt with strongly. Also, the flab has to be trimmed. There are departments which are overstaffed while there are other areas where there is a grave shortage of efficient and adequate hands and the incumbents are stressed, which raises chances of lapses. Recruitments need to be fair and regular assessment and appraisal will keep the bearings oiled.


Railways is such a gargantuan organisation with so many zones and divisions and lobby groups jostling to get a pie of the benefits, that unless there is very strong system of checks and balances with very efficient, honest and strict officers at the helm, it is easy to lose control of the giant functioning and let laxity and corruption make inroads.
Railways undoubtedly need a thorough rejig. It is still based loosely on the British system that was in vogue a century back. The whole work culture by virtue of habit and tradition is rusted, obsolete and laid back, still in the steam engine era mode. Today, we need a robust, modern and upmarket way of looking and managing it.


Over the last three years or so, lots of improvements have been made in areas of cleanliness and passengers’ plaints and issues are promptly addressed, even as timings have improved with the reduction in delays. But that is only a drop in the ocean; the rot is so deep and diverse. Every aspect needs to be tackled separately and intensely in a time-bound manner. Facilities at railway stations, for instance is a complete and separate issue in itself.


Most railway stations in the country are short of benches for people to sit, most stations are short of water kiosks and ceiling fans. Even the fans which exist don’t move. Dogs, rodents and even cattle roam free on platforms, a common scene on small stations. Hundreds of unauthorised persons sleep on the floors, causing grave inconvenience to passengers. Unauthorised movement of people also compromises safety.


The waiting rooms in big stations are short of space, while in smaller stations they are often found locked. Apart, there is also lack of public conveniences like escalators, passenger information systems, wifi and police assistance at hand among other things in most stations that make every journey a nightmare.


Added to that, the unauthorised occupation of reserved berths and lack of proper food on board trains, with even taps running dry for long distances and filthy toilets, provide a perfect recipe for a horrible travel experience.
Every aspect of railways needs change. Safety undoubtedly has to be the first concern, but other issues too need to be attended to.


After safety, the first thing millions of Indians need is cleanliness and proper facilities. Good speed of trains, their timely movement, good food onboard, spic and span and well stocked and maintained railway stations, an alert police, proper announcement system and adequate display boards at prime locations etc are some basic needs which we all deserve.


By the way, it is not just the size of operation that matters, but it is the standard and quality of service that ultimately counts. If Indian railways have to earn better, expand, develop and gain passenger confidence, it has to improve
its services.


There can be no other line of thought. And it is an urgent consideration that is long pending. We can only hope that the Indian Railways will bring about a turnaround in another 3-4 years. Railways in India still have huge potential to grow and prosper. We need to reach there and be a leading example of efficient governance for the world to see.