Central Railway is on the fast track of growth thanks to its traditional commitment to improving services, passenger safety and punctuality.ANUPAMA KATAKAM in Mumbai
ON April 16, 1853, history was made when the Great Indian Peninsula Railway (GIPR) flagged off the first train on the Indian subcontinent, from Bori Bunder (now Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus) to Tannah (Thane). It was the beginning of one of the largest and most extensive railway networks in the world. The GIPR later became the nucleus of the current Central Railway. And history continues to be written by this zone of the Indian Railways. Central Railway continues its pioneering tradition by constantly upgrading and improving its services. Today it is the second largest railway zone in the country in terms of revenue and is perhaps the most efficient. By all accounts, among the 16 zones of the Indian Railway, it leads in the areas of safety and punctuality.
Headquartered in Mumbai, Central Railway is a network of 3,832.18 route kilometres, and 5,817.96 track kilometres connecting 467 stations in Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and northern Karnataka. The main divisions in these States are Mumbai, Bhusaval, Nagpur, Solapur and Pune. In Mumbai, the Central Railway looks after the central and harbour lines of the suburban rail system, which is among the largest of its kind in the world. Constituting what is called the "lifeline of Mumbai", the central and harbour line trains travel between 72 stations every day carrying three million commuters in and around Mumbai.
Over the years, Central Railway has been successfully meeting the demands of a city bursting at its seams. And, especially in the past five years, several measures were initiated to cope with the increasing demand of railway services.
According to S.B Ghosh Dastidar, General Manager, Central Railway, the zone is constantly working on improving tracks, signalling equipment, facilities and services on trains and platforms. "This is the premier railway of the country and we would like to keep it this way," he told Frontline. "We place a lot of emphasis on safety and punctuality and I am happy to say this has resulted in a very efficient railway service" (see interview).
The Deccan Odyssey, a luxury train operated by Central Railway, travels across the heart of India.
Among the new projects that will benefit suburban services are the two lines between Kurla and Thane. This is part of Phase-I of the Mumbai Urban Transport Project (MUTP). Besides this, two more lines between CST and Kurla, part of Phase-II of MUTP, and between Diva and Kalyan are being planned. In order to meet the increasing demand of commuters, Central Railway has increased the number of coaches on local trains from nine to 12, reduced the running time, opened new lines like Thane-Vashi, and extended the destinations of suburban trains. Work is on to repair tracks, prevent encroachments and keep stations clean.
A main area of concern is security, particularly of women, says Ghosh Dastidar. Central Railway constituted the Tejaswini Squad, comprising women ticket collectors and women constables of the Railway Protection Force (RPF), to ensure the safety of women passengers. It has reduced the rate of crime considerably and has been so successful that it is being used as a model by other railway zones.
"Safety is a mission area for Central Railway," said Ghosh Dastidar. Under the Special Railway Safety Fund, it has spent Rs.671 crores on track renewal, bridge works and signalling and telecommunication equipment. The most recent safety measures taken have been the introduction of an anti-collision device, developed by the Konkan Railway. Clearly, the emphasis on safety has paid off; in 2004-05 there was only 0.23 train accidents per million-train kilometre as compared to 0.31 for Indian Railways as a whole. However, a statement from Central Railway said: "The best safety device is an alert and careful railway employee." Therefore, training of staff is being given prime focus.
Soon Central Railway will introduce more innovative measures to make travelling safer and more efficient. These include putting in place a modified vestibule frame to prevent entry of miscreants into the coaches of locked rakes; a mechanism to close the waste-discharge outlet of closets in coach toilets after the train speed drops below 30 kmph; redesigned easy-to-use emergency exit windows in non-air-conditioned coaches; and a rescue crate to be used in the event of accidents to save stranded passengers from coaches lying in rivers, culverts and so on.
Following a series of complaints of the rat menace in air-conditioned coaches, the existing partition grills have been modified to accommodate rat-traps pads in full length. In order to save power, only 30 per cent of the platform lights will remain switched on. When the train approaches a sensor will send a signal to switch on the remaining 70 per cent.
Central Railway is second only to the Northern Zone in terms of revenue earning. The apportioned earnings during 2004-05 is Rs.4,664 crores, an increase of Rs.301 crores from the previous year. Central Railway had 1,260.63 million originating passengers in 2004-05, including 1,118.29 million suburban passengers. There has been an increase of 5.1 per cent in passenger traffic when compared to 2003-04.