Column : High-speed aspirations on slow tracks

Feb 25 2013, 12:20 IST
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SummaryIf Manmohan Singh govt can make railways state-of-the-art, that would be a lasting contribution to Indiaís infrastructure.

The railway budget is expected to be presented on February 27. Recently, Indian Railways announced that it is working on an end-to-end travel solution for passengers, involving doorstep pick-up, porter facility, waiting provision in the executive lounge and assisted boarding, all rolled into one package deal (http://goo.gl/8pWVC). It also announced with much fanfare that it is going to introduce high-speed trains in the country. These announcements seem more like good noises to make as a precursor to the budget, than an imperative implementation strategy.

The proposal for developing high-speed railway line between Delhi and Kanpur via Agra was first mooted in the mid-1980s when Madhavrao Scindia was the railway minister. It was discussed with a sense of definiteness again in 2003 when low-fare airlines started to make significant inroads into premium rail travel traffic. For the last 10 years, every year before the budget, Railways has been making lofty proclamations about introducing high-speed trains, or some such statements about improving rail travel facilities.

For the kind of inefficiency and ineptitude that subsists in railways, it might have become a past tense if it were not a monopoly. We already know the sorry state of affairs of Air India, even though Air India has been comparatively far more efficient than the Indian Railways. The fact that passengers have a right to dignified travel is an idea that is lost on Indian Railways, even though they talk about an end-to-end travel solution.

Consider the way Indian Railways has been depriving the country for decades of some minimum hygiene and comfort that every ticket-purchasing customer is entitled to. Though it may sound harsh, our railway stations invariably have the following attributes: human excreta strewn over the middle of tracks, stinking urinals, mosaic of betel leaf stains in corners of station buildings, unattended mounts of garbage standing tall, stray dogs loitering on platforms, rats in waiting rooms, creepy-crawlies in retiring rooms, beggars in front of stations and itinerants sleeping on platforms in the night. Stations are perpetually crowded with people who are not travelling anywhere. We have dilapidated unhygienic coaches that seem to be caught in a time warp. They sometime lack even basic facilities such as uninterrupted water supply and unsoiled, non-smelly toilets. The number of theft cases in trains is far too many for passengers to even bother lodging a complaint with the pretence of a police called the Railway Protection Force. We havenít even

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