Major Safety Revamp for Indian Railways

  • 2.8 Lakh crore plan – Rebuild Railways
  • 2 Lakh new workers to be recruited for safety checks

In a move to revamp one of the world’s largest railway networks, the government has drawn up a Rs 2.8 lakh crore plan called Re-build Railways. Out of this, close to 15,000 crores will be spent in the current fiscal to fix snags in the railway network and a fund named Rashtriya Rail Sanraksha Kosh’ (RRSK) has been created for the same. A top railway official said that the aim is to reduce accident by 50% in the next two years. This includes supply of track detection machines from Australia, redevelopment of 65 stations and raising the average speed of trains. Also planned are retrofitting 40,000 coaches and making them safer and making trains discharge free in a year by installing almost 50,000 bio-toilets. An Australian company called Track IQ will provide the technology and equipment, including a sensor-based system to detect rail cracks. 

The production of Integral Coach Factory (ICF) coaches will be stopped as well. They account for 90 per cent of total coaches of Indian Railways. They will be replaced with safer Linke Hofmann Busch(LHB) coaches of German design which have anti-climbing feature that prevent the rolling stock from piling over each other in case of accidents, thus minimizing the number of casualties. Additionally, procurement of more than 100 track inspection vehicles is also on the cards. The national transporter will also make its research wing, SHRESTHA, operational at the earliest. The research wing will focus on piloting the upcoming global rail technology that will minimise accidents. 

In another move, close to 2,00,000 workers will be recruited by the Indian Railways in the next couple of years in order to put safety back on track. They will be responsible for patrolling and maintenance of 64,000 km long network of tracks. This move comes after Kalinga-Utkal Express derailment that killed at least 21 people in Uttar Pradesh last week and Kaifyat-Express derailment that injured more than 70 people.

Focussing on elements that can deliver tangible results quickly, almost Rs 18000 crore are being spent on making Delhi-Mumbai and Delhi-Kolkata rail corridors semi high speed. Ongoing projects such as the 3,300-km dedicated freight corridors will also be made operational within a year and a half. The corridors being constructed at the cost of Rs 1 lakh crore will increase the average speed of freight trains from the current 25 kmph to 70 kmph and would substantially reduce the rail freight tarrifs. Railways claims that in the last four years, it has spent almost Rs 4 lakh crore on infrastructure creation and modernisation, against Rs 4.9 lakh crore that was spent between 1947-2013. 

Let us hope these modernization measures will soon bring fruit and the Railways will become safer and less-expensive.

Now, a ‘Give it Up’ Campaign for Rail Fare Subsidy

The government plans to give rail passengers an option to “voluntarily forego” their subsidy on train fares. The development comes in the light of a huge subsidy burden of more than Rs 30,000 crore faced by the Railways on an annual basis. Out of this 1600 crore alone is for concessional fares. Confirming the development, a senior railway official said, “The scheme will be launched from August giving the passengers the option to forego either 100 percent or 50 percent of the subsidy.” A similar mission launched by the ministry of petroleum was an instant hit with more than 10.5 million liquefied petroleum gas (LPG)-consuming households opting out of the subsidy, saving more than Rs 4,000 crore for the government exchequer. 

According to the Railways, the idea came to minister Suresh Prabhu when a passenger, Avtar Krishen Kher, sent back a cheque in the name of IRCTC for the differential amount of the actual fare and the subsidy, which was around Rs 950 for his trip. The railways recovers only close to 57 per cent of the cost of travel on each ticket, while on suburban tickets it comes to around 40 per cent. While passengers travelling by suburban and short-haul trains account for 52 percent of the traffic, their share in total passenger revenues was just around 6-7 percent. This segment accounted for around 60 percent of the annual subsidy burden.

“We expect the people who are well-off to forego the subsidy, as details of this are already printed on tickets,” the official said. This scheme will be available for all the passengers, including army personnel, senior citizens, journalists, and students. The major beneficiaries of this scheme are the Senior Citizens accounting for about 1300 crores. Earlier, the Railways also introduced a dynamic fare system for its Rajdhani and Shatabdi trains. The scheme will be introduced in phases as the accounting systems are being thoroughly overhauled.

Indian Railways to introduce “Book Now, Pay Later”

Indian Railways will soon provide the ‘buy tickets now and pay later’ service for any Express train, an IRCTC official said on Thursday. This move aims to ease commuter hassles and avoiding long queues for buying train tickets.

According to the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) Ltd official, IRCTC has collaborated with a Mumbai-based firm ePayLater for adding the new service option wherein passengers would be able to buy tickets from the IRCTC website and pay later.

With this service, the ticket can be booked five days prior to the journey with a service charge of 3.5 percent and be paid it in the next 14 days. This option was valid only on e-tickets.

In order to ensure that the customers pay the ticket amount, the official said, “The way a credit card is issued after evaluating the CIBIL score of a customer, the same procedure will be followed. Those who want to opt for this service have to give their name, email ID, mobile number, their PAN card or Aadhaar details.” EPaylater will first check the transaction history of the passenger on the basis of personal details provided. Ticket will be assigned under the new service only after ensuring a satisfactory transaction history.

The official further said, “The purpose of this service is not to earn money, but to provide better facility to passengers. It is kind of a short-term loan that we will give to the passengers.” Once the customer gets approval to use the feature, they would be sent an OTP (one-time password) to enable them to use the service.

This is yet another innovative change that the Indian Railways are witnessing aimed at providing a better customer experience.

Beat the summer rush with these new measures by Indian Railways

  • Now IRCTC delivers train tickets to your doorstep
  • Extra AC-3 coaches being added on select routes

In an attempt by the Railways to become more customer-friendly, passengers can now get their tickets delivered directly to them and can pay using cash or any other payment mode. The Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) has introduced the pay-on-delivery (PoD) option which will allow passengers to book train tickets online and pay at the time of delivery. This convenient payment policy is a latest measure amongst a slew of initiatives to help passengers during peak travel season.

This is an added incentive for customers to book tickets online instead of booking through travel agents or railway reservation counters. The tickets can be booked through the IRCTC website or mobile app according to a senior official. Online payments can be made using internet banking, credit and debit cards, etc. For getting PoD as a payment option, the customer will have to do a one-time registration by supplying Aadhaar or PAN card details.

PoD charges shall be Rs 90 for transactions up to Rs 5,000 and Rs 120 for transactions over Rs 5,000 plus service tax, the report says. However, in case of refusal or cancellation before delivery, the delivery and cancellation charges will be levied. This service will be initially available five days before the departure date and will cover over 4000 pin codes in more than 600 cities and towns.

In another move, The Indian Railways has decided to add extra AC-III tier coach to some express trains to clear the summer rush.

The Amritsar-Saharsa Garibrath Express will be augmented by an additional AC-3 coach from May 13 to 28. An extra AC-3 coach will also be added to the Anand Vihar-Varanasi Garibrath Express from May 12 to 30. Also, the Anand Vihar-Gaya Garibrath Express will be augmented by one additional AC-3 coach from May 13 to 24. The Anand Vihar-Muzaffarpur Garibrath Express will be augmented by an extra AC-3 coach from May 12 to 30. Besides, the New Delhi-Naharlagun Superfast Express will be augmented by one additional AC-3 coach from May 14 to 25.

This new measures will provide the much needed relief for passengers traveling on these routes and also the convenience of paying by cash on delivery for their online ticket bookings, thereby beating the long queues and travel agents. Indian railways is definitely on track towards a more modern system with customer service and convenience at its core.

Major Digital push by Indian Railways in the wake of Demonetisation

Post the government’s demonetization decision, in an effort to promote digital payment, the Railways has deployed an additional 465 points of sale (PoS) machines at 217 locations across the country. The plan is to install at least 10,000 point of sale (POS) machines at all the passengers reservation centers, major parcel offices and suburban stations in order to facilitate cashless payment by 31 December. This is being facilitated by a tie up with SBI. These machines will be using debit/credit cards as well as cash at its public reservation system (PRS) counters followed by unreserved ticketing systems (UTS) at suburban stations.

There will be no additional burden on the travelers since Railways will pay 0.75% merchant discount rate (MDR) through debit cards up to and above Rs2,000 transaction. For credit cards and foreign cards the rate will be 1.50% and 2.50%. In fact, as an additional incentive, a 0.5% discount is also being provided on season tickets purchased digitally with effect from 1st January 2017. In addition, a 5% discount will be given on online payment for services such as e-catering and booking of retiring rooms. Also, free insurance would be provided for tickets booked online.

At present, cashless transactions account for 58% through the IRCTC website. This move aims to digitalize the payment of the remaining 42%. The Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu tweeted that a shift to digital model of payment would mean a reduction of cash requirement by Rs. 1,000 crore annually.

Soon Railways to launch e-wallets like PayTM for booking train tickets

Following the National Democratic Alliance government’s push towards a cashless economy and to ease the rush at booking counters, the railways is planning to introduce booking of unreserved railway tickets on e-wallets like PayTM, JioMoney and Airtel Money. This move will scale up paperless mobile ticketing operation across the country in a big way. A mobile wallet is a pre-loaded virtual wallet which can be used for online and offline payments.

In a potential game changer, the national carrier plans to put up quick response (QR) codes at railway stations for unreserved passengers wherein by scanning the code through a mobile device, a passenger will be able to buy a ticket by entering the destination and pay through mobile wallet. The ticket will be delivered on the mobile device. With talks on to finalise the modalities, many top mobile wallet companies are keen on joining the railways. Unreserved ticketing forms a huge chunk of the railways’ total ticket sale in a day and “we want to tap this sector through e-commerce”, said a senior Railway Ministry official. “We should be able to monetise on the unreserved segment which has been our biggest challenge,” said another railway ministry official.

Instead of bearing any cost for this facility, the public transporter is expected to earn from the selected e-wallet players commission on each ticket sold and retainer fees. The move is a win-win proposition for both the railways and the mobile wallet companies. The railways carry total 23 million passengers in a day, of which only six per cent is in reserved category and the rest are in unreserved segment which includes daily commuters. Discussions are on with these players for making the operation foolproof. The railways expect to make the e-wallet system operational across the country early next year, forming a part of the ‘Digital India’ mission of the Prime Minister.

Tejas Express to roll out on Mumbai-Goa Route

The Mumbai-Goa route has been chosen for the railways’ premium Tejas brand of trains. On Thursday, Central Railway announced that the CST-Karmali Tejas will ply on five days, with no service on Monday and Thursday. The train will leave CST at 12:20 am and reach Karmali at 11 am the same day. On the return leg, the Tejas train will leave Karmali at 12:20 pm and reach CST at 10:45 pm. It will halt at Thane, Panvel, Chiplun, Ratnagiri, Kudal and Thivim in both directions, said officials. This distance is covered in 10 hours and 40 minutes. This is 30 – 90 minutes faster than the other trains plying on this route. Though the train has been included in the western zone timetable of Indian Railways that will be effective from Saturday, the date from when it will be operational will be declared later.

Railway sources are hopeful that this train will reduce some load on Konkan Kanya express, which is one of the most popular trains on this route.

The train is aimed at providing world-class facilities to all sections of passengers. The coaches on the train boast of Automatic doors, high-tech entertainment units, Wi-Fi facilities, and integrated braille displays, giving passengers a world-class travel experience. Besides the improved aesthetics, there will be phone sockets, adjustable reading lights, water level indicators in bio-vacuum toilets, taps with sensors, and hand driers. Tejas coaches will also have GPS-based passenger information display system, electronic passenger reservation charts, tea and coffee vending machines, magazines and snack tables. There will be CCTV, and fire and smoke detection and suppression systems. Ergonomic seating with improved cushioning and upholstery along with Dust sealed gangways, fire and smoke detection system, and passenger announcement system are some of the other features.

The other sectors identified by the railways to run Tejas Express are Delhi-Agra, Delhi-Chandigarh, Delhi-Kanpur, Nagpur-Bilaspur, Mysuru-Bengaluru-Chennai, Mumbai-Ahmedabad, Chennai-Hyderabad and Nagpur-Secunderabad.

New Railway Helpline Number Launched

The Minister of Railways has launched a three digit toll free all-India Security Helpline Number ‘182’. This was announced by Shri Suresh Prabhakar Prabhu, Hon’ble Minister of Railways while presenting the Railway Budget – 2015. This security helpline system has been launched through security controls of Railway Protection Force (RPF) for providing round the clock security related assistance to the passengers all over the country, and will particularly provide safety cover for women in distress.

The Railway Protection Force (RPF) Chief Security Commissioner, Inspector General (IG) A N Sinha on Friday urged passengers to dial the toll-free number for 24/7 security related assistance. The new number has been made operational o­n all Divisions over South Central Railway (SCR), wherein users of all service providers (landline and mobile users) can call which will automatically reach the concerned Divisional Control Office depending upon the location of the user/complainant.

The new facility will provide speedy assistance to the passengers in the event of theft, pick pocketing, left behind luggage, harassment of lady passengers, unauthorised persons travelling in ladies coaches and coaches meant for differently abled rail passengers. The complaints received o­n RPF security helpline are forwarded to the concerned RPF Post, GRP (Govt. Railway Police) Post or train escort party for necessary action.

This type of helpline system was functional since 2nd October, 2014 with a four digit number ‘1322’ on SCR. Till date it has received 234 complaints which were attended by the concerned staff and simultaneously informed the complainant about the outcome and their feedback obtained. This number will also remain operational o­n SCR for a period of six months till 182 becomes noted and popular amongst rail users.

Also, a Twitter helpline control room has been established in the Konkan Railway Corporation Limited (KRCL) control room wherein passengers can tweet their complaints for quick assistance. The twitter handle is @RailMinIndia.

Recent IT Initiatives from Indian Railways

Indian railways have been pioneer in using technology to improve efficiency and services. In the current budget allocation, Rs5,000 crore has been dedicated to IT and research. Let’s take a look at the initiatives rolled out in recent times:-

  1. Railways have extended the station-based e-catering service to 408 stations giving passengers with more food choices.
  2. Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) have announced a tie-up with a private chain of hotels for providing standardised accommodation to train travellers – the aim is to offer a convenient booking platform. The partnership will facilitate OYO to power the IRCTC hotel-booking page, offering their inventory and promise of standardised amenities to passengers
  3. Indian Railways has also launched web-based management system to monitor track maintenance and inspection online. This is a great achievement to monitor the track on real time basis.
  4. The Railway Ministry launched handheld terminals for Northern Railways travelling ticket examiners (TTEs), which means that TTE will no longer be required to carry reservation charts on trains.
  5. The ministry has also launched a facility for E-booking of disposable linen on trains. Scheme offers a bedroll kit packed in a non-woven fabric bag consisting of one pillow and two cotton bed sheets at Rs.140 while the other costing Rs.110 offers a single blanket in a non-woven bag (inclusive of all taxes).
  6. Setting up Wi-Fi at 400 stations in next 2 years.
  7. Coin-cum-card operated automatic ticket vending machines at New Delhi railway station, under which a passenger gets ticket quickly under five minutes. These ticket vending machines shall be installed at all the major stations in the country.
  8. A knowledge portal with detailed information on Indian Railways has been launched. Website URL is kportal.indianrailways.gov.in.
  9. In order to bring transparency and efficiency, railways launched a web portal for the e-tendering process.
  10. ‘utsonmobile’ mobile app was launched for paperless unreserved ticket booking.

Customized Student Tours on the Offering

IRCTC is widening its services in the Education Sector and plans to launch Youth Centric Tour Packages. It is working with colleges and schools in the eastern metropolis and in east India to design customized tour packages for students. Leveraging on the positive response to its tours in the past, such as the tailor-made tour for 700 Delhi University students to northeast India in 2014 and it’s bespoke Agra-Delhi packages for Assam students in 2013, IRCTC (East Zone) is actively tapping the potential in the education sector, officials said.

“We have written to 30 to 40 schools in Kolkata and about 15 have responded regarding tours for summer camps and field trips. The potential is huge and we will arrange for travel, accommodation, security and food for the students during the length of the trip…Youth from the state will travel to happening places (Education-wise) such as Hyderabad and Bengaluru to explore opportunities”, said IRCTC group general manager, East Zone, Debashis Chandra in a media interaction at an event in Kolkata.

Adding to this, self-help groups from east India will be given a chance to market their products such as handicrafts on the IRCTC website, said Kaushik Banerjee, deputy general manager (tourism) at IRCTC’s Kolkata Office.

Also under wraps is a deal with Chattisgarh to launch the ‘YUVA’ program for the youth. IRCTC is surely positive about these novel ideas, which will help it gain popularity amongst the youth and also tap into this huge segment of the population.