NEW DELHI: The year 2020 showed India a glimpse of what life would be like without trains.
As the coronavirus block was announced on March 24, the Railway lines for the first time in its 167-year history it closed all its services.
People stranded across the country and who usually looked to the railways to ferry them home were left without their lifeline. Some, like thousands of migrant workers, took to the streets and chose to walk to their destinations.
As the railways turned their resources towards transporting essentials across the country, hundreds of thousands of tickets were canceled during the summer holidays, something unheard of in railroad history.
It was on May 1st that the train wheels started to snort again. This time to ferry migrant workers home. Between May 1 and August 30, Railways ferried 63.15 such workers home in 23 states in over 4,000 special Shramik trains, not only bringing tremendous relief to stranded migrants, but also hoping their anchor of salvation was interrupted, but not out.
However, it was the Shramik special trains that saw the Railways criticized by opposition parties for the fares charged to migrant workers. While the railways claimed not to charge workers a cent and to spend more than Rs 2,000 crore on their transport, the policy on the matter continued.
“What do trains mean to me? They mean hope, joy and even a sense of routine. For 25 years, I have taken the same route back home to Bihar to be with my family after months away from them. This is what it is. they mean.to me, lead me to my family.
“Every year, I booked tickets around the same time to go home. This year it didn’t happen and I feel a sense of loss that something that was part of life could be easily taken away,” said Jitender Kumar, a security guard who works in Noida.
Currently, the Railways operate 1,089 special rail services, while the Kolkata Metro handles 60% of its services, the Mumbai suburbs handle 88% and 50% of Chennai’s suburban services. Railway council chairman and chief executive VK Yadav agreed that it was a difficult year for the national haulier, but also stressed how he innovated and used the crisis as an opportunity.
“This year has been one of grit and victories for Indian railways. Faced with daunting and unprecedented challenges related to Covid, Indian Railways not only was she able to keep the national supply chain running and bring millions of people home under the most adverse circumstances, but she was also able to realize the potential of her workforce, which was pushed to the wall with innovative solutions, “Yadav told PTI.
While passenger movement has declined at an estimated 87% loss from last year, Railways have made drastic changes to their freight movement, introducing package services, transporting essentials like milk, medicines and even ventilators.
The innovation was to realize that if Railways couldn’t move passengers freely, they could move goods instead.
Business Development Units (BDUs) have been established at the Railway Board, Zonal Railway and Divisional level. BDU’s multidisciplinary teams turned to customers to attract new business. It also introduced scheduled parcel delivery services to provide reliable services to courier services and e-commerce companies.
Railways also launched eight Kisan Rail Services to enable farmers to send their products across the nation with faster speed and lower cost.
With all its focus on freight movement, Railways freight transport staged a recovery in September recording a record load of 102 million tonnes (MT), which is the highest load ever recorded for the month of September in any year. The momentum in cargo loading continued and growth of 15% and 9% was achieved in the subsequent months of October and November respectively.
With passenger trains off the rails, the railways doubled the speed of freight trains from 24km / h a year ago to 46km / h, which means half the time it took to ship products. It has also completed over 350 critical and lengthy jobs pending bridges and tracks.
While the year saw no major incidents, the Railways family endured the pain of 30,000 employees infected with the coronavirus and saw more than 700 frontline workers take their breath away.
While it didn’t carry passengers across the country during the holidays, it sent hundreds of thousands of migrant workers home to their loved ones. While it didn’t produce state-of-the-art 18 trains, Railways produced more than 5,000 Covid Care carriages. Its manufacturing units complemented government efforts by producing masks, disinfectants and even coveralls for use by railway employees.
“Railways have used Covid as a challenge and have been able to usher in unprecedented growth in infrastructure development, innovation, network capacity expansion, freight diversification and transparency issues. Railways have this crisis as an opportunity. to lay the foundation for the future development and next level of travel experience for passengers, “said Yadav.
Looking ahead, he said plans have been made to meet both infrastructure and traffic requirements until the year 2050.
A National Railway Plan (NRP) 2030 has been developed with the aim of developing infrastructure by 2030 to meet traffic requirements until 2050. Based on the PNR, a Vision 2024 document has been prepared to develop infrastructure by 2024 to improve the modal share of railways in freight transport to over 40% and to meet traffic needs until 2030.
However, there are two key issues that Railways are at loggerheads not only with their own officials and unions, but also with political parties.
While in 2020 the size of the Railway Board was reduced and it was reoriented on functional lines, the decision to unify the eight organized services of Group “ A ” into a single service within the Indian Railway Management Service (IRMS) has attracted a lot of criticism. The modalities for the recruitment of officers in the IRMS and the unification of existing services are being defined.
Another problem with Railways’ decision to introduce 151 modern passenger trains operated by private operators on 109 routes has led both unions and opposition parties to accuse the national carrier of selling domestic goods.
Although Kumar does not understand the implications of either the reorganization of cadres or the movement of private trains, he does know, however, that a glimpse of a life without trains meant moments away from loved ones.