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Editorial Articles

Issue no 43, 21-27 January 2023

Indian Railways: Ushering in a New Era of Modernisation

The Indian Railways is undergoing a major expansion and overhaul with the introduction of modern stations, trains and technology, and enhanced connectivity. Presently, there are six modern 'Vande Bharat' Trains running in service on the Indian Railways network. In addition, 'Bharat Gaurav' Trains, which showcase India's rich cultural heritage and magnificent historical places, have also been launched. In December 2022, the Indian Railways launched the Amrit Bharat Station scheme which envisages development of stations on a continuous basis with a long term vision. The scheme aims at preparation of Master Plans of the Railway stations and implementation of the Master Plan in phases to enhance the facilities. Attempts shall be made to club different grades/types of waiting halls and provide good cafeteria/ retail facilities as far as possible. Amenities for Divyangjan at stations shall be as per guidelines issued by Railway Board from time to time. Bhupendra Singh of All India Radio spoke to Minister for Railways, Shri Ashwini Vaishnaw for Employment News about various schemes and projects of the Indian Railways. Excerpts from his interview:

EN: As part of the National Rail Plan, Vision 2024 has been launched for accelerated implementation of certain critical projects by 2024. What progress has been made on those fronts? Shri Ashwini Vaishnaw: Very good progress has happened. In fact, if you look at it, 10 years back, Indian Railways used to lay 4 kilometers of railway tracks per day, which has reached to 12 kilometers per day now. This is three times more of the earlier work, which is a great progress. Most of the critical and supercritical projects are in the commissioning phase and many of them have already been commissioned.

EN: The Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan aims to boost local industries in every sphere of the economy. In making the Indian Railways "future ready", how are indigenous industries contributing in terms of Research and Development and commissioning of new technologies for the railways?

Shri Ashwini Vaishnaw: In Railways, there is a huge thrust on developing new indigenous technologies. If you look at the success of Vande Bharat, it is a great success and it is a totally new world class train, which has been designed and manufactured in India. The Kavach (Automatic Train Protection System) has also been designed and manufactured in the country. We are going to manufacture forged wheels which are high speed wheels. These wheels will not only be manufactured for the Indian Railways but will also be exported to other countries. Scale of manufacturing in locomotives, trains, coaches, wagons is giving real thrust to the Make in India initiative.


EN: Ministry of Railways has undertaken a scheme of major upgradation of railway stations. Briefly tell us about the major elements of the upgraded stations.

Shri Ashwini Vaishnaw: Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi has a clear vision of improving the passengers' experience while travelling in trains. Shri Modi's vision is that the station should become the city centre and it should join both parts of the city. The focus is to create good urban space and roof plaza. Another priority area is that the local products should be made available on these railway stations as every city in India has a local product. Upgradation of railway stations is totally a new concept wherein focus will be laid in creating vast spacious waiting areas, good food courts, space for children and tribal arts. All kinds of these things will change the way passengers' experience the railways.


EN: What kind of skill requirements and job creation are we looking at given the pace of Indian Railways' modernisation?

Shri Ashwini Vaishnaw: The Indian Railways has a very extensive training programme in its 50 odd training centres across the country. Around two lakh 50 thousand people get training in the railways and find good employment opportunities across the country. It is a good contribution of railways towards the society.


EN: Please tell us about the current position of the Diamond Quadrilateral High Speed Rail Project and the progress in the direction of operation of Bullet Trains in India.

Shri Ashwini Vaishnaw: First bullet train project is taken up between Mumbai and Ahmedabad. There is a very good progress as 126 kilometers of pillars, bridges on major rivers, stations and depots are getting done. Technology involved in bullet trains is quite complex. We have to understand and absorb the technology and make sure that people are well-versed with it and then we expand it to other corridors.


EN: In what ways have the Vande Bharat trains trained travel experience of passengers?

Shri Ashwini Vaishnaw: Vande Bharat trains have been designed for very good quality of rides on the existing tracks. If you put a glass of water on the Vande Bharat train, the water does not spill, the glass does not shake, that is the quality of ride which is in Vande Bharat trains. It is a very comfortable ride. The train has been designed for 35 years as we upgrade the tracks for higher speed, this train is designed to run at 180 kilometers per hour.


EN: Energy efficiency has a central role in tackling climate change. Kindly outline the measures being taken by the Indian Railways to improve energy efficiency, especially in the context of the plan to transition towards hydrogen powered trains.

Shri Ashwini Vaishnaw: Railways is focussing on three steps in this direction. First is complete electrification. Railways have achieved very good progress on this front. Close to five thousand to six thousand kilometers are electrified every year. Second, focus on solar power and third is Hydrogen Train. These are the three large initiatives; Indian Railways plans to become green Railways.


EN: To what extent has the Indian Railways rolled out the automated train protection system -Kavach?

Shri Ashwini Vaishnaw: This year Railways have done about three thousand kilometers of tenders. Work is going on and Railways is planning to ramp it up further. This is a very good technology. If two trains are running on the same track, even if the driver or loco pilot does not apply the brakes, the Kavach system applies brakes automatically. The whole world is watching its success.


EN: Kindly tell us about the status of the Gati Shakti Cargo Terminal project.

Shri Ashwini Vaishnaw: This is a very good initiative of Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi's reform programme. We have opened up the Railways network to those who want to join it. The Indian Railways has received over 140 applications. 50 plus applications have been given in-principal approval. The Indian Railways is making good progress in it and this will help in bringing the cargo from road to rail. Cargo, when it comes to Rail is at least less than half the cost of the road. So that way, the country's logistics cost reduces.


EN: Following the announcement of the National Gati Shakti National plan, the Indian Railways constituted a Gati Shakti Directorate earlier this year. Please shed more light on the mandate of this directorate.

Shri Ashwini Vaishnaw: This is a very good reform Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi has mandated that we should not think in silos and think holistically. Railways merged eight departments and put them under one Directorate. Earlier, one file used to go from one place to another and simple matters used to take months to get approved. Now things are getting approved within days, which is a big change.


EN: Is the Government mulling operating passenger trains through PublicPrivate-Partnership mode?

Shri Ashwini Vaishnaw: There is no plan to have private players to run the trains. Basically, we are subsidising the rail travel for passengers by about 55 percent. Practically everybody is getting a discount and concession of 55 percent to every passenger. It is not viable for private players to give that kind of concession and discount.


EN: As part of the Railway 4.0, also known as Digital Railway, in which aspects of its functioning, has the Indian Railways made optimum utilisation of digital applications and what are the future targets on this front?

Shri Ashwini Vaishnaw: A lot of transport planning is now automated. Good computer systems are there and the entire ticketing system has been computerised. The entire wagons allocation, passengers' on boarding and many other things have also been computerised. This helped us give a very good quality of services to the people. Besides, Railways is also using the Artificial Intelligence tools in transport planning and maintenance.


EN: A Startup innovation policy has also been launched by the Ministry of Railways. How will this Policy help the Indian Railways to leverage innovative technologies for improving its operational efficiency and safety?

Shri Ashwini Vaishnaw: Railways got a very good response. For 11 problem statements, over 800 startups have applied. The good thing about the Startup Innovation Policy is that beyond the product approval, Railways will also give a four year contract to those startups so that they can develop the products and deploy it at a large scale.


(The interviewer is Correspondent, All India Radio. He can be reached at airnews.bhupendra@gmail.com)