Thursday, August 16, 2007

Indian Railways: an insignia for national integration or an institution for political disintegration?

Indian Railways, an insignia for national integration
Daily India, Aug 11, 2007
[Comment: Or, does it another institution of Indian political interference?]

New Delhi, Aug 11: Indian Railways, a British legacy passed on to India, continues to expand its network as an insignia for national integration.

The world's largest rail transport network -- 63,000-kilometre long track -- if joined end to end, would encircle the earth one-and-a-half times.

Over 14,000 trains carry more than 14 million passengers daily between the southernmost tip, Kanyakumari to Kashmir in the north, and Gujarat in the west to Nagaland in the northeast.

"As a facility for the masses, it is the lifeline of the people. And it is an insignia for national integration. We have already reached up to Jammu and Udhampur, and we go right up to Kanyakumari and time is not far when we are going to link up Srinagar. The work is on," said I I M S Rana, former Chairman of Indian Railway Board.

The British ran the first train in India on April 16, 1853 when a steam engine puffed through 35 kilometres between Mumbai and Thane.

"The Indian railway system is unique. It is the largest system from any considerations- the number of passengers carried, the number of employees. It is the single largest unit under one management," said Rana.

There were 42 independent rail systems in India at the time of independence that were nationalised into one unit by 1951.

India has since created one mammoth system that is critical to its economy and the billion-odd population.

With low fares and great connectivity, trains are perhaps the only viable long-distance travel solution for the middle-class people.

In a booming Indian economy, the railways alone carry 40 per cent of the total freight traffic. With over 1.6 million employees, it makes for the world's largest commercial or utility employer.

A former senior official, however, said post-independence expansion of the network has barely been able to keep up with the burgeoning volume of traffic.

"Expansion of the network has not been as fast as it was in the pre-independence era. The pace of new line constructions then was roughly three times faster than what it has been after independence. Traffic has roughly become eight to nine times after independence, and this means that the existing assets have been used in a very extensive way," said V.K.Aggarwal, another former Railway Board Chief.

According to Aggarwal, increasing utilisation of the railway network makes all the more sense in an era of carbon credits and environmental concerns, with fuel consumption in rail transport being nine times less than in road transport to move an equivalent load of cargo.

Indian Railways have transcended figures, numbers and have steeped into folklore and culture.

A significant variant of the crowded, ugly coaches are luxury trains operating in Rajasthan, with plush interiors, luxurious restaurants and bars justifying every bit names like 'Palace on Wheels.'

'Toy trains,' with steam engine pulled small-size compartments running over narrow tracks in hilly areas, are another exotic element of the network. The toy train in Darjeeling has made its way to the UNESCO World Heritage List.

Riding on a recent wave of making profits, India's Railway Ministry has launched several modernisation initiatives.

Wi-Fi, web-ticketing and GPS have started dotting Victorian-era stations teeming with massive crowds.

Comment: However, political interference from the ruling party and the concern railway minister in the central Indian government has been a serious concern for Indian Railway (IR) since years.
Majority of the investment in the yearly railway budget inculding for new track suvery & construction, new train routes and trains, various developmental projects and new initiatives etc are always rewarded to the region/state affilicated with concern railway minister, other minister in the central government and state ruled by the partners of the central government by totally neglecting those regions which make Indian railway profitable in actual.

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