Explained: The key to keeping Indian Railways trains running on time

Did you know that in Japan, if a train arrives before the scheduled time, it is considered a loss of punctuality? In fact, Japan measures the punctuality of its trains in seconds. On the other hand, indian railways trains are generally perceived as being late – a sad reality that hasn’t changed for several years now!
Since 2015, there has been a significant increase in capital investment – ​​from Rs 12,895 crore in 2008-09 to Rs 33,931 crore in 2015-16 on new lines, gauge conversion, doubling, electrification and track renewal. Experts are also of the opinion that railways are spending much more on upgrading and increasing infrastructure in recent years.
However, in a recent compliance audit report by CAG, it was noted that despite significant investment of Rs 2.5 lakh crore in 2008-19, there was no noticeable improvement in on-time delivery. trains. The audit found a meager improvement of 0.18% in punctuality and 0.61% in the average speed of express trains. The punctuality of Mail/Express trains went from 79% in 2012-13 to 69.23% in 2018-19!

For example, Indian Railways revised its date to reach speeds of 160 km/h from 1960 and it still wasn’t reached until 2019-20. Even after many years, there has been no change in the maximum permitted speed of Rajdhani and Shatabdi trains.

“Mission Raftaar” was introduced in 2016-17 to double the average speed of freight trains and Courier/Express trains by 2021-22. However, the average speed of Courier/Express trains remained the same even after 4 years of this mission, the report noted.
At a time when Indian Railways plans to deploy hundreds of ‘future-ready’ Vande Bharat Express, we analyze whether they will help solve the problem of punctuality. If not, what should the railways focus on to get this important parameter and what lessons can be learned from Japan and China.
Trains Vande Bharat the solution?
400 Vande Bharat trains have been announced – chair cars, sleeper trains and also aluminum trains for the first time on the network. Capable of reaching speeds of 160 to 180 km/h, the trains have been hailed as the future of rail transport in India, both in terms of technical advantages and passenger comfort.
Incidentally, the CAG report also noted the relatively better punctuality of these trains. The stop from Vande Bharat 22435/22436 to Kanpur and Prayagraj is only 2 minutes as per the report. “Dwell time includes crew change at Prayagraj. On the same pattern, train stops can be considered for reduction by the railways to reduce journey time and decongest busy traffic nodes “, he recommends.

TOI accessed the punctuality data of the two Vande Bharat trains between Delhi-Varanasi and Delhi-Katra. Within a few months, the trains have a good punctuality rate.
Shri Prakash sees two advantages; minimal turnaround time since no locomotive reversal is required and faster acceleration and deceleration. However, he feels that these will not have a big impact on punctuality. “It is important to ensure that no data manipulation is carried out to paint a rosy picture,” warns the former member of the Board of Railways (Traffic).
Sudhanshu Mani, former managing director of ICF and the man who built Vande Bharat, says that at present the two trains cannot operate to their full potential. Mani says once Delhi-Mumbai and Delhi-Howrah are upgraded to 160 km/h, the operation of Shatabdi and Rajdhani type trains will be a game changer. “Not only would travel time be reduced, but line capacity would also be improved,” he told TOI.
However, Mani adds that even with an optimistic five-year outlook, the railways at most will be able to absorb 150 trains on busy routes at 130-160 km/h. “Upgrading the tracks and other rail infrastructure is unlikely to keep up with the speed range of the Vande Bharats,” he adds. The former general manager of ICF recommends making certain trains capable of reaching 120 km/h at a lower cost.
Arindam Guha, a partner at Deloitte India, believes that while Vande Bharats will help catch up on delays along the way, major issues will continue to play a key role.
Indeed, the CAG report points out that despite the higher capacity of the locomotives, rolling stock, the average speed of the drive trains has not been proportional to the potential.
So if the rolling stock is not primarily responsible, then why are the trains delayed?
According to the CAG audit, six factors caused 66% of detentions; off course, engineering, rescheduling of trains by zonal railways, delay of other railways, planned block open line and traffic.

Slamming railways, the report says that although critical factors like traffic, path, engineering, block and signal and telecommunications contribute 51% to on-time performance, only 19.81% of expenses were made against them.

CAG also noted that it is necessary to ensure efficient track maintenance, longer and frequent stops create traffic jams, line capacity utilization should be calculated scientifically. Asset failures were trending upwards and despite the provision of integrated corridor blocks, maintenance activities were not integrated.
Jagannarayan Padmanabhan, director of CRISIL Infrastructure, explains that there is a network planning problem. Arindam Guha also sees operational coordination and inadequate infrastructure as major issues. “Congestion, few platforms with the length required to handle longer trains, an insufficient number of car wash lines and garage lines lead to longer turnaround times,” he says.
Guha adds that operational coordination influences activities such as scheduled and unscheduled maintenance, crew change, refilling of essential items which also impact on-time performance.
Lessons from Japan, China and other countries:
CAG is of the view that India has a very high threshold and low standards when it comes to measuring punctuality. “IR measures the punctuality of trains at arrival stations. In other countries, it is measured at the starting point, at the intermediate station and at the arrival stations. To measure punctuality, the IR provides an allowance of 15 minutes late. Other countries have much stricter threshold,” the report said.

The CAG report indicates that China has understood the need for faster trains. “Since 1990, the average passenger speed has increased by more than 60% in China. After six rounds of nationwide rail speed acceleration campaigns, the speed has accelerated to 120-300 km/h,” he noted.
According to a World Bank report, since 2008, China has put more than 25,000 km of dedicated high-speed rail lines into operation, far more than the total in service in the rest of the world. “With strong operational capacity and sound infrastructure and facilities, China’s high-speed rail service has a good track record of punctuality and reliability,” the report said. The punctuality rate is over 98% for departures and over 95% for arrivals.
Shri Prakash advocates learning lessons from Japan. “On-time performance is almost 100% due to the quality of the equipment used and the built-in redundancy,” he told TOI. According to him, high-speed trains in India will bring new Japanese track technology that we can seek to emulate on the network. “Right-hand signaling equipment and the maintenance of coaches and locomotives also require significant investment,” he adds.
Deloitte’s Guha thinks the introduction of private rail operators could help. “Countries like the UK have adopted private passenger trains on performance-based contracts,” he says. “This ensures that the private partner does not deviate from the published schedule without financial penalties,” he explains.
All is not bleak when it comes to the quality of rail infrastructure in India. According to a recent World Bank analysis of railways in developing countries, India performs reasonably well compared to the other three networks in South Asia (Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh). The World Bank report also notes that much of India’s network has been significantly upgraded, including duplication, electrification and modern signalling.

The report uses data from the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report 2017-18. However, compared to other major economies in the world, the quality of India’s railway infrastructure is relatively less, but not poor.
Where is the solution?
Increase capacity, says Jagannarayan Padmanabhan. “Freight and passenger trains should be on different tracks. Accelerate dedicated freight corridor projects,” he told TOI. High-speed and high-speed rail corridors will decongest the network, improving capacity, he adds.
Deloitte’s Guha says the railways have already taken steps to increase infrastructure starting with high-traffic and commercially important routes like those between metropolitan cities.
It also advocates the use of technological solutions for operational coordination. “This will strengthen coordination between the different units of the teams and close monitoring of turnaround times,” he told TOI.
The CAG audit found that through computerization of timetables, train consolidation, conflict resolution and integrated maintenance, train punctuality can be improved.
Indian Railways prepares its timetable manually while generally simulators and computerized systems are used. However, in an encouraging sign, the railways said that in a recent exercise undertaken with the help of IIT Mumbai, the speeds of more than 2,000 trains have been improved.
As part of this exercise, the journey time of more than 900 trains was reduced by more than one hour while for 1600 trains the journey time was reduced by more than 30 minutes. 362 passenger trains have been converted to Mail/Express trains while 120 Mail/Express trains have been converted to ultra-fast service. A 5% increase in the average speed of passenger train services has been achieved.
While India’s railways appear to be a key driver of economic growth, they face fierce competition from roads and aviation. A key parameter for customer satisfaction is the on-time delivery of services – whether passenger or freight. A focus on global practices, the removal of operational inefficiencies, the use of science-based solutions and targeted infrastructure investments will go a long way to making railways competitive.

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