In this series on the performance of various ministers in Modi government, today we look at the Railway minister. Piyush Goyal is another rising star in the BJP and one of the best performing ministers of the Modi cabinet. Ministry of Railways has undergone a sea change during the tenure of Narendra Modi government. The credit of which should be given to both, Piyush Goyal and Suresh Prabhu, the former Railways Minister. Piyush Goyal is Minister of Railways, Coal and was interim Finance Minister when Arun Jaitley was away due to medical reasons. Before this, he also held power portfolio for significant time and did a major transformation in the power sector.
Piyush Goyal is a Chartered Accountant (CA) by training. He was all India second rank holder in CA exams. He was also second rank holder in Law in Mumbai University. He was a well-known investment banker and has advised top corporates on management strategy and growth. He also served on the Board of India’s largest commercial bank, the State Bank of India and Bank of Baroda. He got the RSS training at home itself, as his father late Vedprakash Goyal was an active RSS and BJP member. His father served as Union Minister for Shipping in Vajpayee government and was also national treasurer of the BJP. His mother Chandrakanta Goyal was elected to Maharashtra Legislative Assembly thrice from Mumbai. Piyush Goyal was also nominated by the Vajpayee government to the prestigious Task Force for Interlinking of Rivers in 2002.
Following his father, Piyush Goyal also served BJP as national treasurer and member of the national executive. He headed the BJP’s information communication campaign committee and oversaw the publicity and advertising campaign of the party including the social media outreach for the Loksabha elections 2014. Post elections, at first he was inducted in the council of ministers and Minister of State (independent charge) for Power and Coal by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Impressed by his performance, PM Modi later elevated him as cabinet minister for a crucial portfolio like Railways. Piyush Goyal is one of the best performing ministers in Modi in the government. Impressed by his star performance, PM Modi also entrusted him with all important finance portfolio in absence of Arun Jaitley, when he was away for his medical treatment. Piyush Goyal presented the last budget of Modi government in absence of Arun Jaitley. This budget was widely held as a very good budget due to several middle class, farmers and unorganized sector workers welfare schemes.
Let’s have a look at Piyush Goyal’s achievements as railway minister.
Bullet Train – Though the first MoU between India and Japan for Shinkansen popularly known as Bullet Train was signed in 2007 during UPA 1 government, things didn’t move an inch ahead till Narendra Modi took charge as Prime Minister. UPA government had finalized the route Mumbai – Ahmedabad for the first Bullet Train after a joint survey by Indian Railways and Shinkansen of Japan. Things moved fast, as NDA governments which are known for its infrastructure spending, fast-tracked the bullet train. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Prime Minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe jointly laid the foundation stone of India’s first Bullet Train in September 2017 between Mumbai and Ahmedabad. Work has already started on the route, and Prime Minister Modi has given a target of August 2022 for its completion and first commercial run. Looking at the penchant of Modi government to complete projects on time, India would surely have its first Bullet Train on tracks by August 2022. Congress questioned the need for Bullet Train in a juvenile manner, termed it as misplaced priority of Modi and accused PM Modi of taking every project to Gujarat and developing Gujarat on Maharashtra money, despite the fact that it was UPA government which decided the first route, and both Maharashtra and Gujarat governments are equal partners in the Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) established. Modi government executed it unlike Congress which just sat on the project.
Train 18 – Train 18 which has now been renamed as Vande Bharat Express, is the first modern world class rolling stock produced indigenously under ‘Make in India’ initiative by Integral Coach Factory (ICF), Chennai at the cost of just Rs 100 crore. World over one rake of such train equipped with all modern amenities and features costs at least Rs 250 crore. Train 18 has been completely conceptualized and designed in India itself. It is designed to reach a top speed of 200 KMPH, conditions permitting making it fastest train in India. However since tracks in India are not designed for such high speed, its top speed has been capped at 160 KMPH by Commissioner of Railway Safety, still making it fastest train in India by a great margin. During trials, Train 18 regularly clocked speed of 180 KMPH. The entire train was conceptualized, planned and developed in the span of 18 months, meaning entire development happened during Modi government. Train 18 will eventually replace Shatabdi Express across all the routes.
Piyush Goyal in the budget speech said, that this year ICF will produce 4 more such trains. Another Train 20 prototype is being readied, which would hit the tracks in 2020 and will replace Rajdhani Express. It would have some additional features like sleeper coaches etc. in addition to all features of Train 18 as it would be designed for longer journeys. Other countries from all across the globe have shown interest in importing Train 18 due to its lesser costs compared to its global peers. Piyush Goyal has said that once Train 18 achieves surplus production, it would be exported. This is the first time that even developed countries like Singapore have shown interest in buying train from India, although India in the past has been regularly exporting trains to developing countries. Train 18 is power packed with other features, which have been never seen in Indian Railways. Other features of Train 18 includes self-propelled engines from both sides of the train like a metro train, meaning there is no need of reversing the train at destination station for its return journey. Like metro coaches, the doors of Train 18 will open only after it stops.
The train will have two executive compartments which will have 52 seats each, and trailer coaches will have 78 seats each. The executive class will have rotating seats to match the direction of the train. It also has diffused lighting, an onboard infotainment system with Wi-Fi, vacuum toilets and sliding doors, besides a GPS-based passenger information system. The footstep in a coach’s doorway slides outward when the train stops at a station to help passengers alight safely with comfort. Train 18 also has touch-free bio-vacuum toilets, LED lighting, mobile charging points, and a climate control system that adjusts the temperature according to occupancy and weather. It also features emergency talk-back units to contact train crew and CCTVs in all coaches for safe and secure travel. Passengers can also enter train drivers cockpit and have a look at it. First Train 18 has been flagged off between Delhi – Varanasi. It takes only 8 hours to cover this distance while stopping only at Kanpur and Prayagraj. Currently, the fastest trains between these two stations take 11.30–11.45 hours to cover this distance. Train 18 cuts it down further by 3.5 hours. This train has received rave reviews from the passengers in the last 2 months since it has been launched.
Unfortunately, this train is become a frequent target of antisocial elements, with the train being pelted with stones, shattering its glasses, several times. To check this problem, railways has installed cameras on the train to identify the areas where stones pelting is being reported. Even the veteran journalist Mark Tully has praised Vande Bharat Express in his column. While second such Vande Bharat Express is ready, its launch has been delayed due to model code of conduct in force due to general elections. Election Commission seriously needs to think if all the development activities can stop during elections, especially when the train has already been launched and there is nothing new in the train set which is different from the first.
Trains like Gatiman Express, Tejas Express, Mahamana Express, Humsafar Express launched – All the trains come with modern coaches and are equipped with better and modern features for the comfort of the passengers. Gatiman Train was the fastest train in India before Vande Bharat train (Train 18) started operations.
Anubhuti Coaches and Deendayalu Coaches – Railways have also started manufacturing Anubhuti coaches for the comfort of 1AC and Executive class passengers in Rajdhani Express. These coaches are modern and upgraded version of coaches for already premium class coaches like 1AC and Executive Class. These include aeroplane like features like LED lighting, bio vacuum toilets, reading lights, attendant call button etc. Famous author Chetan Bhagat was so impressed with Anubhuti Coaches that he urged travellers to chuck flights and travel in Anubhuti Coaches.
However, railways are not only about premium travellers. Common public also travels through railways as it is the only affordable and viable option to travel long distance for them. For the benefit of general bogie travellers, railways launched Deendayalu Coaches. All seats in Deendayalu coaches are cushioned, unlike regular second class non-reserved compartments. It also has Aquaguard fitted in each coach to provide potable drinking water to the passengers. It boasts of LED lights and more numbers of mobile charging sockets. 1000 such Deendayalu coaches have been manufactured.
Elimination of all unmanned railway level crossings – Indian Railways has eliminated all unmanned railway level crossings (UMRL) on its network on mission mode either by manning them or constructing over bridges, underpasses or diversions. UMRLs were the major cause of train accidents in the country as it provided unauthorised access to people on railway tracks. To get an idea about the speed at which they were eliminated, in April 2017, there were 4,943 UMRLs across the IR network, in April 2018, the number fell to 3,479 UMRLs, by November 2018, only 77 UMRLs were left and by December 2018 only 1 UMRL was left which was closed 1st February 2019, one year ahead of the target, making India completely UMRL free and eliminating a major reason of train accidents.
Best safety record in the history of Indian Railways – IR recorded its best-ever safety record in 2017-18 with the number of accidents at 73, which were recorded in double digits for the first time in the history of railways.
Rashtriya Rail Sanraksha Kosh (RRSK) fund of Rs 1 lakh crore introduced in 2017-18 to be spent exclusively on safety over five years (2017-18 to 2021-22). For the first time ever railways have seen such a huge allocation on safety.
Capital Expenditure in four years was more than 10 years of UPA government – Capital expenditure from April-2014 to March 2018 (4 years) was Rs 3.64 lakh crore which is more than the cumulative investment of Rs 3.54 lakh crore in railways during the entire tenure of UPA government from April 2004 to March 2014. This means while UPA spent an average of 35,000 crore on capital expenditure of railways, which is meant for creation of new infrastructure and modernize existing one, Modi government spent an average of Rs 91,000 crore towards it meaning it spent almost 3 times more per year than UPA government towards creating new infrastructure.
9,528 kilometers of new broad-gauge lines were built in 4 years compared 7,600 kilometers in previous 5 years meaning, while Congress government constructed an average of 1520 kilometers per year, Modi government constructed 2382 kilometers of new railway lines per year.
During 4 years of Modi government, 8,411 kilometers of railway track was electrified compared to 3,038 kilometers of 5 years of UPA 2 government, which is nearly 3 times more than UPA 2. Electrification ensures lesser diesel consumption, lesser emissions and cleaner environment.
50% increase in track renewal from 2,926 kilometers in 2013-14 to 4,405 kilometers in 2017-18 was also achieved.
All the existing railway lines in the northeast were converted to broad gauge while Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram were brought on railway map for the first time.
Wi-Fi at Railway Stations – All the major stations now have free Wi-Fi network for passengers in association with Google.
LED lights at all railway stations – All stations now have LED lightings which have resulted in the reduction of power bills of Rs 500 crore for Indian Railways and reduce the CO2 emission by 60,000 tonnes. All coaches are also being fitted with LED lights with 5000 coaches already fitted with LED lights.
Escalators and lifts at railways stations – All major railway stations now have escalators and lift facility for the convenience of passengers, especially old and divyang passengers.
600 stations are being redeveloped with world-class facilities. Earlier during UPA government, only ‘Adarsh’ stations were announced but no real work happened. Habibganj station of Bhopal is being developed on the lines of Heidelberg railways station of Germany.
Ticketing on IRCTC website – IRCTC website had become a butt of the jokes for its slow speed ticketing. This government gave a facelift to IRCTC website as well as increased the capacity of its servers from 2,000 tickets per minute to 20,000 tickets per minute having 10 fold increase in the capacity.
Complete stopping of ICF designed coach – IR has completely stopped production of conventional railway coaches know as ICF coaches in railway parlance. It now only produces Linke Hoffman Busch (LHB) coaches which are generally used for Rajdhani and Shatabdi Express and are equipped with more safety features, which in case of accidents don’t climb on each other due to its strong coupling features, reducing fatality rates.
Antyodaya Train Service – All general class (unreserved) service for the benefit of common passengers with LHB coaches having additional facilities has been started. Currently, 15 such Antyodaya Trains are operational between different stations.
Project Swarn for upgradation of Rajdhani and Shatabdi Express Trains – Railways started the project Swarn to upgrade coaches of Rajdhani and Shatabdi Express. Under Project Swarn, coaches have an interior painting with an aesthetic international colour scheme and LED lighting to improve illumination, better hygiene by providing ‘auto janitor’ system in toilets. They also have health faucets, stainless steel wash basins, improved soap dispenser and better quality dustbins, at carefully chosen locations for ergonomic convenience. These coaches have night signage for easy identifications of berth number for en-route entraining passengers. Blanket covers for First AC passengers of two different colours to ensure separate covers in to and fro journey in these coaches.
First AC passengers also have built-in ladders for easy access to the upper berth. These coaches have CCTV cameras in the doorway area and aisles to monitor any suspicious activity. They also have newly designed magazine bags with an extra pocket for mobile to suit changing lifestyle, LED lighting over mirrors, vinyl wrapping of toilet doors for improved aesthetics and epoxy coating in toilets, provisioning of extra mats in the toilet to improve hygienic standards and to give a dry toilet to the passengers with improved cleanliness. Toilets also have polished commodes and basins to make them odour free on every trip. Real time feedback is also taken from passengers by dedicated railway staff.
Digital India, Digital Railways – Railways has embarked on increased passenger convenience and any help needed during the journey is just a tweet away. Many passengers have been helped in a medical emergency or otherwise, just on a tweet. There are examples of a train making an unscheduled stop to cater to a passenger in need. This service was started by Suresh Prabhu, when he personally started responding to tweets of needy passengers and directing the concerned officials for help. Later 24*7 a control room was set up to monitor IR twitter account and provide help to needy passengers.
Post demonetisation, railways also leapt forward to accept digital payments and more than 9,000 POS machines have been installed across the IR network to promote digital transactions. To promote digital transactions, railways withdrew service charges on online booking of tickets and on transactions against credit/debit cards for purchasing journey tickets at PRS/UTS counters. It also offered 5% discount on season tickets purchased through digital means and 5% discount on reserved counter ticket subject to a maximum discount of Rs. 50 for tickets of value of Rs. 100/- or more for payments made through UPI/BHIM.
Major thrust to suburban networks – An outlay of Rs 17,000 crore was approved for development Bengaluru Suburban System and Rs 65,000 crore for upgradation of Mumbai Suburban System in budget 2018-19. Never before Mumbai Suburban network got such huge outlay. Mumbai also got its first AC local train on its suburban network. Mumbai is set to get 12 more AC locals this year, greatly reducing the sufferings of Mumbai local passengers, where travelling in a local train is no less than fighting a war for Mumbaikars. According to the plan, Mumbai will get 210 AC locals making the local journey comfortable for Mumbaikars.
First all women station – Matunga station in Mumbai became the first station to be manned by all women staff. All the staff at this station including station incharge, ticket window operator, RPF personnel is women. Railways in planning 12 more such all women stations.
India’s first National Rail & Transportation University was set up in Vadodara. It has started its first academic session in 2018-19 with two undergraduate programs, B.Sc. in Transportation Technology and BBA in Transportation Management. Having such a university was a dream of PM Narendra Modi. He took a personal interest in the project. Its only third such university of the world, with other two in Russia and China, making India join the elite club of countries having such university.
Swachch Bharat, Swachch Railways – Those who have travelled in railway or been to railway stations in the last 5 years, would have seen a remarkable improvement in cleanliness in the railway stations and surrounding areas. Regular housekeeping, several times a day is done both in stations as well as moving trains. Those who have travelled in trains, especially in the long-distance ones, would be witness to how often housekeeping staff comes and cleans the entire compartment. Moreover, you can also request their services just on call/SMS/tweet.
Braille signage in trains – Train seat signages are now equipped with Braille for the benefit of blind passengers.
Vistadome Coaches – Vistadome coaches have been attached to trains running on scenic routes like Araku Vally, Mumbai – Goa (Konkan Railway) and Kalka – Shimla for tourists to be able to enjoy the natural beauty of the surroundings. Train routes in North East will soon get these coaches. These coaches are hit with tourists and they are demanding that railways introduce more Vistadome coaches in order to cater to the demand.
The author is journalism pass out from Indian Institute of Mass Communication, New Delhi. After dangerously flirting with the idea of left during his IIMC days, due to the proximity of the IIMC with JNU, a den of radical leftists, he became firmly aligned to right after realizing the futility of the left. He tweets at @kpophale.