A successful run

Print edition : April 22, 2005

The South Eastern Railway is the lifeline of the country as far as industry is concerned. But the achievements in this area are not made at the expense of passenger services. -

Bold initiatives taken by a responsive administration help the South Eastern Railway maintain its winning ways and contribute to nation-building.

THE South Eastern Railway (SER) is known as the `blue chip' of the Indian Railways not only for its profit-earning ability but also for its contribution to nation-building. The SER, before its trifurcation in 2003, accounted for nearly 40 per cent of the originating freight traffic of the Indian Railways. It has set a record in improving its performance year after year in the freight sector. In 2003-2004, the first year after its trifurcation, the SER produced brilliant results with an originating freight loading of 69.15 million tonnes. This year it is expected to cross 73 million tonnes, a record-breaking feat and two million tonnes more than the target fixed by the Railway Board.

A rail index is judged by a railway's operating ratio - the amount spent for a single rupee earned. The SER's operating ratio has always been excellent. In the financial year 2002-03, it stood at 71.6 per cent. The following year, after the trifurcation, there was a slight increase to 81.2 per cent, but still very much in control. The fact that the SER still contributes Rs.2 crores a day to the Indian economy stands testimony to that.

The SER's contribution to India's economy and industrial growth has all along been more than considerable. With its freight profile drawn around major core streams such as coal, iron and steel, exportable ore, cement, petroleum products, foodgrains, fertilizers and other general goods, the SER is the lifeline of the nation as far as industry is concerned. It is often jocularly referred to as the Steel Enterprise Railway for its unique distinction of serving all the seven integrated steel plants of the country, by carrying 90 per cent of their traffic. In fact, it was this particular railway that played an integral part in the setting up of Tata Iron and Steel Company (TISCO) plant in Jamshedpur and the Indian Iron and Steel Company (IISCO) plant at Burnpur. Prior to its trifurcation, the SER served four ports - Kolkata, Haldia, Paradip and Vishakapatnam.

Being a commercial organisation, the SER has always made efforts to be responsive to market growth and thereby increase its earnings from originating freight-loading. It is fully aware that its achievements would not have been possible without the active support of its customers, and it has never let them down. It has introduced a system whereby freight customers can check their indents through the SER website and then the respective divisions' weblinks. This helps plan out the loading and movement of the materials already placed with the Railway. The SER also participates at divisional and zonal levels with major freight customers such as TISCO, Steel Authority of India Ltd (SAIL) and the Port Authority to minimise terminal detention and to meet the expectations of the railway's customers.

Even though the SER's core competence has traditionally been in freight transport, it was never done at the expense of passenger services. With the improvement in punctuality, there has been notable improvement in originating passenger traffic. In 2003-04, the SER carried 145.7 million passengers. This year the originating passenger traffic is expected to cross 152 million. This has been possible owing to the punctual running of trains, the augmentation of coaches during busy seasons and the running of special trains during the summer, winter and Puja holidays. Earlier, the freight-passenger ratio of the SER was 80:20. After the trifurcation this stands at 70:30.

The Kharagpur station, which has the longest platform in the world.-

The SER has also taken several passenger-friendly initiatives to ensure maximum customer satisfaction. It is the first railway in the eastern sector to install a Platform Ticket Vending Machine, at Howrah station. Three computerised current reservation counters and unreserved ticket counters have also been installed at Howrah. With a view to enhancing passenger information services, the SER has installed Interactive Voice Response System (IVRS) at nine stations - Rourkela, Tatanagar, Ranchi, Adra, Bankura, Kharagpur, Bokaro Steel City, Jharsuguda and Balasore. It is also the first railway to run the passenger reservation system (PRS) on all days including Sundays from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

The SER also owns the only two hotels run by the Indian Railways, widely known as BNR Hotels, at Ranchi and Puri. These hotels are quite popular among holiday-makers. The hotel at Puri, with its 34 well-furnished rooms, offers a timeless grace of Victorian vintage. The railway's hotel in Ranchi is ideally located, so that tourists can stay there and visit picturesque destinations. Facilities for combined rail-cum-hotel booking are also available for visitors.

Ensuring safety has always been a priority with the SER. Every person it employs is sensitised to the utmost necessity of safe working in his or her field. Safety preparedness at times of accidents is also very important to the railway. The various divisions under the SER regularly take safety drills. All kinds of catastrophes, including fire, head-on collisions and capsizing, are anticipated and the exercises to tackle such exigencies are drawn out accordingly. "All these exercises were extremely helpful. We learnt a lot and have taken note of the mistakes and difficulties that may occur during rescue operations," Chief Public Relations Officer of the SER Debashis Chandra told Frontline.

The BNR hotel in Ranchi. The SER owns the only two hotels run by the Indian Railways.-

The railway has also set up various consultative committees, such as the Zonal Railway Users Consultative Committee, the Divisional Railway Users Consultative Committee, and the Suburban Railway Users Consultative Committee, through which interaction with different passenger associations has been intensified to ensure maximum passenger satisfaction.

Last but not the least of the factors that contribute to the SER's success is its dedicated workforce of about one lakh. "It is these employees, some of whom work in remote underdeveloped regions, and their unquestioning service to the organisation, that make our railway a `better railway'," Yashpal Gupta, Additional General Manager, SER, told Frontline.

A unique feature of the railway is the way in which workload is distributed, giving women employees equal responsibility and importance. "We have women employees in our system in almost all posts, including those of the ticket collector, the gate keeper, the driver and the RPF [Railway Protection Force] constable," said Chandra. In Adra division, the railway has introduced Tejaswini Squads in a system in which women commercial staff members along with women RPF constables help passengers on trains and at stations, and in the process help create a positive image for the SER.

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