Union Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu in an exclusive interview to BOOM’s Govindraj Ethiraj has said that ever since he took over the ministry, the safety track record has improved by 50%. Prabhu said that there have been a few unfortunate incidents but that can be attributed to sabotage as the National Investigation agency investigations point out and not due to systemic issues. Citing safety as a function of track renewal, the minster said that he has allocated Rs 10,000 cr for renewal of tracks in this year’s budget which will help clear up the modernisation backlog accumulated over the years.
Q) The Railways are making interesting progress. You have managed to create some great segmentation – super fast trains, fast trains, relatively luxurious trains, new connections. Tell us about 2017-18. What are the three or four key priorities for the coming year?
We are working on augmentation of capacity. We are focusing on 60-65% of traffic handled by only 16% of network. So we are focusing on that 16% of network so that we can deliver quick results. And these 65% of traffic will benefit immediately. We are also working on safety. Secondly, we have set up a safety fund of Rs 1 lakh crore which we will use this year. We will also address modernisation through this fund. Thirdly, it is customer satisfaction. For that we are doing a number of measures.
We just introduced a new catering policy, mechanised laundry, changing the interiors of the train, refurbishing of coaches. 40,000 coaches will be refurbished over the course of next few years. Imagine over last 70 years, a few hundreds must have been done. Then we are focusing on speed, electrification in a big way, improving the transparency of the entire process. Improving the revenues of the railways. So we have started non-fare revenue tariffs. Reducing cost which has never happened before, Rs 41,000 cr of energy costs will be saved over next ten years. Rs 4,000 cr has already been saved.
We are also working on human resource audit and creating a transformation cell which will look at transformative measures. And these are not selected by me or any outsider but by people working in the railways.
Q: So let us look at safety, speed and costs. So when you look at safety, what are the reasons you feel there are accidents?
Firstly, safety record of the railways have improved by 50%. We have reduced it by less than half in a matter of just two and half incidents, barring a few unfortunate cases which we all know were not genuine cases and are being investigated by the National Investigation Agency for the sabotage angle. Safety is a function of track renewal. We are investing Rs 10,000 cr in track renewal and that itself should clear up the backlog by the end of this year.
Q) So you are saying that track renewals should itself improve safety?
Yes but we are also doing mechanised technology to identify cracks in tracks. We are also working on coaches, modernising them and retrofitting them. We are also doing a major thing on signalling using drones and geospatial technology to identify the possible causes.
Q) You are also working on improving the speed. Where is the conflict as it stands today?
Bulk of the traffic is between Delhi to Mumbai and Delhi to Kolkatta. We are improving the speed by 160-200 kmph and that will happen over next two years. Work has already started on this and I have provided Rs 20,000 crore only for this. We have given to one agency so that all angles will be looked into. All of this will again improve safety so these are not standalone issues.
Q) In contrast between running Railways and the ministry of Power, what are the similarities you can see – cost and efficiency?
There are some similarities – People were not willing to pay for power and people are not willing to pay for railways. But otherwise there is a huge difference. We had organised more than 1500 roadshows only to create awareness why power sector reforms are needed, over 5000 roadshows for interlinking of rivers. We are trying to create a lot of awareness for railways and there is a lot of acceptance now.