Indian Railways is world’s fourth largest train network but has traditionally been known for its delays, inefficiency and sloppy service levels. However, since the current NDA government taking over in 2014, this old and creaky behemoth is undergoing a large-scale transformation at a rapid pace.
While HSR trains in Europe, Japan, and China run at 300+ km/hr, the fastest train in India (Shatabdi Express) still clocks a maximum of only 75 km/hr. The average speed of passenger trains in India is a shoddy 50 km/hr and freight trains run even slower at an average speed of 25 km/hr.
This is set to dramatically change with High-Speed-Rails (300+ km/hr), Semi-High-Speed trains (160+ km/hr) and Dedicated Freight Corridor.
First HSR (Bullet Trains) project on Mumbai–Ahmedabad route was launched in 2017. Currently, five more routes for connecting major Indian cities are at different stages of evaluation which will eventually create 10,000+ km of bullet train network across India.
In addition, Semi-High-Speed trains (Gatimaan Express and Tejas Express) have been launched in 2016 and 2017 respectively. Many more routes are planned to be covered by semi-high-speed trains shortly. Currently code-named as Train 18 and Train 20, these swanky trains are indigenously Made in India (at ICF, Chennai) with modern features like engine-less travel and zero discharge bio-vacuum toilets. Running at more than 160 km/hr, they will reduce travel time by 20% and will eventually replace Shatabdi and Rajdhani trains in India. Train 18 is planned to be launched before the end of 2018 and Train 20 by sometime in 2020.
Safety and Punctuality:
Currently, both passenger trains and freight trains share the same railway tracks. Dedicated Freight Corridor (DFC) project is constructing 3,300 km of Railway Tracks exclusively for goods trains. Once slow-moving freight trains are shifted to DFC, the tracks for passenger trains will be significantly de-congested, resulting in increased safety and punctuality. DFC will also enable double the freight train lengths, carrying 2.5 times the load to travel at three times the current speed (from 25 km/h to 75 km/hr). The first stretch of DFC is planned to be operational by end 2018 and full corridor by 2020.
Since 2018, the old signal system is being replaced by the new European Train Control System-2 (ETCS2) in phases. ETCS2 allows trains to run on the same track with a minimum distance of just 500 meters between them, which will increase track utilization, help to run trains at faster speeds and further reduce delays.
To increase safety, Railways has also started implementing Train Protection and Warning System (TPWS) on 3,330 km of tracks. This advanced accident prevention measure, under which trains are in constant communication with the signals through sensors installed on the track side, will be implemented in two phases over the next four years. It will reduce manual effort, increase train safety and prevent delays during foggy weather.
Quality of Service:
In 2017, Mumbai local got its first AC train 150 years after its inception. These modern coaches are made indigenously in Integral Coach Factory, Chennai.
Catering vendors in many trains have been given hand-held PoS machines for billing the passengers. This will prevent passengers being overcharged for food or vendors pocketing the money without issuing bill thus causing loss of revenue to railways.
Indian Railways has also partnered with Google to provide free high-speed Wi-Fi on all 8,500 stations across the country. As of March 2018, it is already available on 600 stations.
Environment and Cleanliness:
In 2017, Indian Railways also started using solar panels on rooftops of DEMU trains. These panels generate energy for train’s electrical systems like lights, fans, door operation, information display panels etc. Using solar energy on six carriages saves Railways around 21,000 litres of diesel every year while reducing the carbon signature by 54 tonnes per year.
In another appreciable initiative, Railways has installed 1,25,000 bio-toilets in train coaches. Jointly developed by the engineers of Indian Railways and DRDO, these are modern technology mechanisms which convert human waste into water and gases. This initiative will go a long way in maintaining the hygiene and cleanliness of railway tracks.
Skill creation for future:
Initially announced in 2014, India is also setting up its first “Rail University” in Vadodara, Gujarat. With a focus on R&D on modern railways, signalling, communication and transportation technology, this will be set up as a global university, open to 3,000 students from across the globe. With Pramath Sinha, founding dean of Indian School of Business (ISB), Hyderabad as Chief Advisor for the project, the university is planned to start by 2018.
Indian Railways is transforming at a never before scale and is setting the ground for a much better customer experience in years to come.