Railway minister Piyush Goyal on Monday said Indian Railways would offer ‘blocks’ for maintenance in a scheduled manner so that repairs are undertaken without affecting running of trains. The minister ruled out privatisation of the core activity of railways such as train operations, signalling, etc and said “neither there are any such proposals nor the government has any such plan”.
A ‘block’ is a time frame required to carry out repair work during which a section of tracks needs to be cleared and no train should be allowed to cross at that time. “This may require changes in the existing passenger trains’ time table,” Goyal said while addressing reporters to highlight the achievements of the transporter during the four-year tenure of the NDA government.
Scheduled slots for blocks is expected to bring a synergy between the engineering and traffic departments of railways. While the engineering department carries out maintenance of assets, the traffic department is responsible for timely running of trains. However, differences between the two has led to a blame game over massive delays in running of trains.
As reported by FE, the derailment of the Puri-Haridwar Kalinga Utkal Express near Khatauli in Uttar Pradesh in August 2017 could have been averted had the maintenance crew been given the 20 minutes it needed to repair the track. Post the incident, offering blocks for repairs has been given priority as it comes under the safety category. According to Goyal, safety is being given the utmost priority.
In 2017-18, rail track renewal was accorded emphasis and 4,405 km of tracks were renewed, compared with 2,597 km in 2016-17. Mohd Jamshed, member traffic, Railway Board, said the transporter is targeting renewal of 5,000 km of tracks in the current financial year.
According to Railway Board chairman Ashwani Lohani, while over the last two decades the number of trains running on tracks has doubled, infrastructure has remained the same.
“The focus is on infrastructure development and renewals. The short-term pain now will lead to long-term gains,” Lohani said referring to train delays due to maintenance works. Goyal said over the next five-seven years, the capacity of the existing infrastructure will be doubled by using technology and through efficiency gains.
On the issue of privatisation of the transporter, as feared by railway unions given trailways has been seeking foreign investment in areas of technological upgradation and modernisation, Goyal clarified, “Let me make it very clear that there are no plans to privatise railways, either now or ever.”
The gross budgetary support (GBS) to railways is on a decline which has prompted it to look for private investment for capital expenditure, the target for which is Rs 1.46 lakh crore in the current year. While GBS for 2017-18 was initially Rs 55,000 crore, it was cut to Rs 40,000 crore.