Railway Minister Prabhu is learnt to be taking stock of punctuality figures and asset-failure on a daily basis.
With the PMO flooded with complaints of trains running late, the Railways is even dusting files from the Emergency to find out how trains ran on time then.
“We’ve been told that trains ran on time during the Emergency. We are taking out old files from that time to study the patterns of train punctuality. Old records show trains did maintain punctuality of upwards of 90 per cent back then,” said a senior ministry official on condition of anonymity.
This, sources said, comes after Prime Minister Narendra Modi sought an explanation from Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu recently on why trains were running late and punctuality figures were on the decline. Railway officials were also told that the PMO has been receiving frequent complaints from MPs, ministers and citizens about trains running way behind schedule. The complaints were being forwarded to the ministry, and many of them mentioned how punctual trains were during the Emergency.
Since then, Prabhu is learnt to be taking stock of punctuality figures and asset-failure on a daily basis — a first for a Railway Minister in recent years.
The veil over punctuality figures was lifted earlier this month after Railway Board Member (Traffic) Ajay Shukla, in a letter to all zonal railways, warned traffic officers of “wrong reporting” of the figures, which can be done by manually feeding incorrect information about the movement of trains in the central coaching operations information system. This is virtually the same as admitting that figures were being fudged all these years. The punishment for it, the letter says, will be suspension and inter-zonal transfer and other disciplinary action against officers as high as the zonal chief passenger traffic officer.
Since then, the punctuality figures have plummeted which, Rail Bhawan officials believe, is a sign of a decrease in the apparent fudging of punctuality data. While 84.43 per cent punctuality was maintained in March 2014, the figure for the same month now stands at 79 per cent on a nationwide basis. Zonal railways like the Northern Railway saw its punctuality figures come down from 82 per cent to 60 per cent. The figures are expected to drop further in the coming days.
Under fire, the traffic directorate, whose job is to run trains efficiently, has said that asset/equipment failure — like signal malfunction, rolling stock breakdown, overhead equipment failure, etc — contributes a lot to “punctuality loss”, but not all such instances are accurately reported by their engineering counterparts. “The extent of asset failure causing punctuality loss was being hidden behind rosy punctuality data all these years. That will now come to the fore now,” said an official.
A few years ago, trials of ‘data logger’, a system installed by the signalling and telecom branch of the Railways to automatically log running status of trains, were held successfully, but it was never rolled out across India as the traffic directorate voiced cost concerns. Currently, it is active at a few places along High Density Routes like Mughalsarai.