We deserve a world-class railway system


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3 Mar 2013

 
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We deserve a world-class railway system

Of all the comments on the Railway Budget it was Mayawati’s comment that struck a chord of resonance for me. Not what she said about the Budget being anti-people because that is something every Opposition leader seemed programmed to say, but the part about how filthy our railway stations are and how mystifying it is that we seem unable to provide funds for them to be cleaned up. No sooner did she say this than images of China’s railway stations rose up in my mind and I found myself wondering for the hundredth time why our proudly leftist political leaders could not have learned from China the art of providing excellent services in that most humblest of forms of public transport — the railways.

If you have never been on a Chinese train you will not understand what I am talking about, so although I have described my journey from Tianjin to Beijing before, I am going to do it again. A couple of years ago, I was in Tianjin for an international conference and was advised by Indian friends, who happened also to be there, to go to Beijing by train just to see how sophisticated Chinese railway services were compared to our own. They were not exaggerating. When I arrived at Tianjin railway station my eyes literally popped out of my head. My first impression was that I had walked into the lobby of a fancy shopping mall or fine hotel and it took me a minute to remind myself that I was at a railway station. The platforms were so clean that you could eat off them but there was no need for this because there were restaurants, cafes and other facilities for weary travelers that would make most Indian airports look deficient. By the time I got on board the train to Beijing I was bedazzled and this sense of wonder remained with me as the train travelled at more than 300 kilometers an hour. It was as modern a train as I have travelled on. More modern even than the high-speed train I once took from Tokyo to Kyoto.

So whenever I travel by train in India I find myself making judgements and comparisons and waiting for the day when a Railway Minister will announce in his Budget speech that he has set aside a few thousand crore rupees to install modern mechanised systems of cleaning our railway stations and proper toilets on trains. If you think modern toilets are a luxury a ‘poor country like India’ cannot afford, you are wrong. What we cannot afford are the healthcare costs of the diseases caused by human excrement being spread across the length and breadth of India on 110,000 kilometers of railway track. What we cannot afford is for each and every one of our 7,000 railway stations being so filthy as to become disease-spreading centres in their own right. What we cannot afford is to continue providing the ‘common man’ in India with public services of such appalling quality that they would be built again from scratch in a better country.

Every Railway Minister in his Budget speech chants the name of the ‘common man’ as if it were a mantra for bad services. And, if a Railway Minister dares to raise fares even minimally he finds himself assailed by political opponents who attack him in the name of that same common man but ironically nobody demands better, safer services for the 25 million Indians who rely daily on the railways for transport. So year after year we sit through long, dreary railway Budget speeches in which Ministers reel off the names of new trains as if they were reading from railway timetables. This usually acts as a signal for those MPs whose constituencies have been ignored to start yelling in the Well of the house and this is what happened this time as well. Afterwards not a single MP or political leader commented on the quality of railway services other than Mayawati.

Sadly the media seems also to be stuck in a mould, so the next day’s headlines after a Railway Budget are usually used to comment on whether or not fares have gone up. This time headlines shrieked about freight charges having gone up while at the same time charging the Minister with being ‘populist’ by not raising passenger fares. If Pawan Bansal had been truly populist, he would have announced measures to improve railway services which today are without question among the worst in the world. They are not bad for want of resources but bad for want of imagination on the part of the men who have been put in charge of the Railway Ministry. They have, to a man (and woman), been stuck in that old socialist time warp when India was so desperately poor that this Ministry was seen not as a service provider but as a means of patronage. The excessive attention this time to building new railway facilities in Rae Bareilli and Amethi is a good example of what I mean.

What made me feel even gloomier the day after the Railway Budget was that not a single newspaper I read, and I read a few, commented on the inexplicable inability of successive Railway Ministers to be more imaginative about funding their budgets. The Railways have some of the grandest colonial hotels in the country that, if improved, could become a huge source of revenue. The railways own vast tracts of very expensive urban land that, if used better, could bring in enough money to overhaul the entire system. Railway stations, if modernised and cleaned up, could themselves bring in vast revenues because they would attract the investment of restaurateurs and shopkeepers. As someone who has had the dubious privilege of commenting on a few decades of Railway Budgets, I believe that I am in a good position to state that the only reason why Indian railway services have not reached international standards is because we have so far not been lucky enough to have a single really good Railway Minister. If we are ever lucky enough to get one in the future it would be only a matter of time before services improved dramatically enough for Indian railway stations to resemble the one I saw in Tianjin and Indian trains to resemble the one I travelled on to Beijing. For this to happen we need a real Railway Minister with a real vision.


Tavleen Singh is an Indian columnist, political reporter and writer.

(c) NiTi Digital. Reproduction and/or reposting of this content is strictly prohibited under copyright laws.


 
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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100005128806326 Matteus Mahumane

    China and India are very similar in terms of territory and population sizes, but very dissimilar in political and cultural values. China copied the four Asian tiger models in which development preceded democracy whereas India opted for democracy first. Because democracy is a very messy system, development will follow very slowly. In democracies decision making processes are very slow, inefficient and expensive. India will eventually modernize its railway system over a long period of time but at a high cost, unlike undemocratic four Asian tigers and China. India must be patient.

  • Bapty.s

    TAVLEEN. ,,Very. Appropriate. And. Sensible. Article. We need to do all that you have said. Perhaps. Our. Rly. Team. Needs. To understand. From. China or Japan. Or Korea. Etc. all about RAILWAYS. MADAM TAVLEEN. This. Needs much more than just a travel. We need. To visit. With a specifically. Chosen team of. Project. Mgmt, electrical ,mechanical engineers, civil engineers. And. Project finance. People. From Indian financial. Institutions. And banks. ,
    Most importantly. Headed by a honest. Implementer. Of. MR. SREEDHARANS. CAPABILITY AND ABILTY. WE NEED. TO UNDERSTSND HOW. CHINA FINANCED IT. TEAM NEEDS. TO SPEND. MIN. 3 to. 4. WEEKS. VERY PURPOSEFULLY. IN CHINA. .

    I feel. In India. For all this to happen. The. P.M. NEEDS NTO BE INVOLVED. AND. COMPLETE. AUTONOMY AND POWERS. SHLD. BE GIVEN TO. THE RLY. BOARD CHAIRMAN WITH NO INTERFERENCE. PERHAPS. ABOUT. 20. STATIONS. REASONABLY. REPRESENTING. MOST STATES. ,INCLUDING. ALL 4. Metros, ,and. Major. State capitals. .
    MADAM TAVLEEN. I DO WISH. A. DOCUMENTARY. IS. TAKEN ON CHINESE. RLYS.

    CAN YOU TELL US. HOW RLYS. ARE. IN OTHER PARTS. OF CHINA ,A LARGE. COUNTRY. WITH. 1.6 BILLION PEOPLE .

  • Rajalakshmi

    I am going ARRRRGGHHH…at Tavleen Singh’s ” wondering for the hundredth time why our proudly leftist political leaders could not have learned from China the art of providing excellent services in that most humblest of forms of public transport — the railways”.

    For their OWN personal requirements , the same crooks belonging to congress, dmk & communists party IMPORT medicines , crystalware , liquor( Kamal Nath)bidets from France ( all bollykolly filmstars& politicians) aviation fuel , Italian marbles , Belgian glass , gold & dates from Gulf countries , terminator seeds from MONSANTO thus earning huge bribes and ALSO travel abroad for surgeries. Including Indian filmstars. All filmstars hindus , muslims , converted christians, atheists, agnostics , buddhists do their SHOPPING in London , America , posterior gyrations in EUROPE ( particularly SWITZERLAND) South Africa , Mauritius , Maldives , why Rajanaikanth & Aishwarya Rais went to Peru for just ONE SEGMENT of their ugly CAVORTINGS clad in hideous expensive attire.

    For such VULGAR kitsch wrongly called art Shiamak Davars , Prabhudevas , Chinnibinnys , Farah Khans , Brindas & Kalas ( all calling themselves choreographers) are PAID heavily in this allegedly poverty stricken country lacking adequate water & cooking gas cylinders.

    Hence basic commonsense dictates ” WHY NOT LET THE CHINESE ENTER & BUILD”.

    Even a toddler would agree with me.Why do we continue to INSIST on tolerating & empowering the same INCORRIGIBLY ROTTEN to the CORE leftists, centrists,activists,congressis,barkha dutts,vikram chandras,n.rams, secularists,lawyers,ministers,judges to negotiate,travel,learn(LOL) & t…h…..e….n….implement??

    LUDICROUS.

  • Rajalakshmi

    WELCOMING CHINA , ISRAEL , AMERICA , EUROPE wholeheartedly to enter GODFORSAKEN India & set things right ALONE would set things right.

    CERTAINLY not through more “lambastings , heated discussions , question hours, rushing to the WELL,throwing the mikes , sticking out the tongues obscenely as Vijaykanth of Tamil Nadu a wannabe ally of Rahul Gandhi’s congress routinely does,Meira Kumars meowing “order order” & P Chidambarams breaking into Bhojpuri unexpectedly with hum kahavath hai”…..& Advanis rewinding good old DEAD past of his struggles in Lahore & Vajpayee’s poems recitals by Ram Vilas Paswans …interfaith soirees by art of living CHARLATAN SSSSSRavishankars…

    Right now this SSSRavishankar is busy “donating” some solar panels (allegedly) to Nepal along with his hyperventilation.Conning many suckers in Nepal.

    CHINA & ISRAEL DO NOT proselytize. Thanks to Sri.Ratzinger of Vatican the entire evangelising brigade is rattled.

    I am no xenophobic swadeshi nutcase. Smt.Jayalalithaa ALSO is no such anachronistic nutcase.

    I am very much pro America & West like Gautam Mukherjee , Swapan Dasgupta & Tavleen Singh.

    Thank God for BRILLIANT AMERICANS this “avatard” SSSRavishankar was exposed & unmasked.

    Indian IITians , IIMians & various hiiighly qualified missile IDIOTS like Abdul Kalams etc were ASSERTING this charlatan SSSRavishankar is God Incarnate. On second thoughts I think Abdul Kalam wantonly misleads us.As he invariably cautions ” DREAM , DREAM my fellow indians….one day in 2050 we will become sooooperpower”. Confident Abdul Kalam will not be there in 2050.

  • Rajalakshmi

    Let me jog Tavleen Singh’s memory.

    Much earlier before Mamata Banerjee threw these leftists from power in West Bengal , during ‘STOUTLY refusing to die and/or fall sick TERRORIST Jyoti Basu”s reign , his own komrades travelled to CHINA for the umpteenth time to “study & learn” one of their komrades blurted out after returning to Kolkata:-

    ” They ( CHINA) are not following communism & leftism AT ALL. They are following CAPITAAAALISM….”

    Eventually when Jyoti Basu the terrorist died of natural causes & mourned heavily…Buddhadev Bhattcharya confronting desolation & ruin as fait accompli decided to “implement” CAPITAAAAALISM….

    The rest is history. Even after that loss of lives & setting up his business in Gujarat this Ratan TATA emerged as one cruel heartless fellow.
    Already Ratan Tata had rendered the fertile soil irredeemably sterile by dumping tonnes of fly ash. In addition to that demanded “compensation” from gorement of West Bengal.

    Thank God at least ONE Ashok Mitra had the sense & courage to point it out.

  • Rajalakshmi

    In the 1960s there was this writer cum editor of a Tamil weekly called Ananda Vikatan. His name was Manian.

    He travelled all over the world , took lots of photographs of all places never failing to put his arms around foreign women & publishing them all in his weekly travelogues in Ananda Vikatan. Like all kosher Indians carried bottled pickles , ground spices , maybe even rice & wheat to cook & eat in those foreign countries. Once carried a bottle of deep fried ” மோர் மிளகாய் ” also which ALARMED the American officials at their airport as they thought they were some deadly explosives. I don’t blame the Americans at all. They do look scary. And this Manian lectured them on great indian culture swadeshi pickles recipes vegetarianism blah blah so much they gave up letting him enter America with those deep fried charred looking ” மோர் மிளகாய் “.

    Belive it or not. At the end of each paragraph in his travelogues he cried & whinged ” why is indiAAA not like this”…” when will indiaAAA become like AmericAAAA….whyyy are indians not AT ALL good & trustworthy like Americans , Europeans , Japanese , Africans , British , Singaporeans , Malaysians , Australians , New Zealanders …..”.

    The concluding lines without fail of all his travelogues ended with this “HEAVY VERY VERY HEAVY PAIN in his chest” bleating ” when will indiaaAAAA become like this “.

    Towards the end of his career gave up all such pain & wishful dreaming. Became editor of a religious magazine devoted to recording Sthala Puranams of various Hindu Temples & interviews with various Aacharyas.
    After that I never heard him cry & hope & pray for indiaAAA’s prosperity.Mercifully.

  • Rajalakshmi

    There is only ONE IMPORTANT reason for which Manian does command my regard.
    But again , that credit OUGHT to go to ALL those foreigners (non indian women) who he forcefully HUGGED.

    Unwittingly WISDOM from non indian FOREIGN women did seep into Manian as he had only ONE rhetorical question to ask throughout the years he served as Editor of that GOOD TAMIL religious magazine.

    No other Indian asks that very important question till date.I DID in some other blog of an NRI settled in America. NO , I DID NOT steal Manian’s thought/ question . Only this afternoon while going through Tavleen Singh’s article SUDDENLY Manian’s plaintive cries loomed before me after so many decades.

    The question is “WHY, WHY on Earth are these indians frenziedly building more & more Temples wherever they go & settle down abroad ? WHY AT ALL?
    Why spend so much demanding donations & building new new Temples all over GODFORSAKEN india also ? When already existing Ancient Sacred Temples & Theertha Kshetrams are left uncared for & in disrepair ?

    The tragedy being not a single reader approved of this pertinent question.

    Today also kollywood’s lecherous actor called Arjun who slobbered all over Ranjita making her wear diaphanous outfits drenched in rains has joined RSS. And has built some HUGE hanuman temple in Tamil Nadu.I would not be surprised AT ALL if hindus christen him arjunananda & fall at his feet.

    How could RSS admit him as a member??

  • Puneet Maheshwari

    Greetings Tavleen,

    Thanks for sharing the concern each of “Comman Man” shares.
    I am a young NRI, shifted couple of years back to Thailand. I wonder how come we Indians despite having all the right talent & skill to do things are lagging in very basic things. Sometimes I do get criticized by my family, friends & even wife for not comparing things & taking easy but i cant help myself but compare the resources & approach of Indian government over the years.

    Journalist/Writers/columnist like you are very important, this website is new, i am following it from last few months and i have forwarded to all my friends. I did that just to give my friends a connect about how we think & how some, although very small, section of journalists also think about issues that really matter.

    I have heard you long back in DD times, but in between lost or didn’t read the papers/watched TV channels where you were writing/debating.
    But last few months I have came across your articles & interview to news laundry.

    I want to congratulate you for keeping the objective journalism alive.

    Hope for a better India.

  • Jitendra Desai

    Very well said Tavleen.As son of a Station Master, I can vouch for what you said.IT IS POSSIBLE TO CLEAN UP THE MESS ON OUR RAILWAY STATIONS!Whenever there is GM[now DRM] INSPECTION, stations ARE spruced up.If they can do for a day, they should be able to do it every day.
    You said you want a brand new railway minister.I say, you don’t need a Railway Minister NOW after 65 years.Railways should be converted in to autonomous corporation led by a professional railway board and accountable to the Parliament.All political parties seek railway ministry not so much to improve railways but to distribute largesse.Time has come to stop this charade of railway budgets and office called railway minister.
    As you said,all major railway stations can become revenue earners, if handed over to local businesses for maintenance and upkeep.Eventually railways should only manage tracks and signaling systems.Rest all should be outsourced to improve services and yes! earn money!Any takers? Ask NaMo! He has done it with electricity board in his state.He will do it for Railways,given a chance.

  • Sampath R

    For me and to those likes of my thousands of friends sincerely paying up their Income Tax to India Government, Indian Railways known for Public Toliets.. and i do not mind if a crorepati would visit any station or the tracks to prove me wrong.. After Indian Army, Indian Railways are most corrupt.. The no-good doers PIMPS or MSM or Main Stream Media never tried attentions of People of India to create any awareness.. hence its me goo dot gl slash 0PLSe , goo dot gl slash VrSpL

  • Vijay Patel

    Does any body remember the railway minister Mr. Chara gottala walla openig a new railway station and spiting on it. so who is to be blaimed for dire state of Indian railway you guess.

  • Charles William Morgan, Jr.

    Politics needs to be removed from Indian Railways management. A professional railway manager should be brought in from Japan, China, South Korea, Switzerland, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, or another appropriate European nation. Get proof of their abilities! Forget Belgium and the Netherlands, as they took 20 years to build a high-speed route between Amsterdam and Brussels, and now cannot even operate it.

    As was mentioned above, teams need to be sent to review the operations of the main railway stations in major world cities known for their efficient rail operations, such as Zurich, Switzerland; Berlin, Germany; Munich, Germany; Copenhagen, Denmark; Amsterdam, Netherlands; Seoul, Korea; Tokyo, Japan; Kyoto, Japan; Washington, DC, USA; Frankfurt, Germany; Warsaw, Poland; etc. The team should observe and document the efficient rail operations, the many and varied restaurants in each station, the methods of ticket purchase, department stores and other convenience facilities in each station, and the fact that these stations operate as genuine efficient transportation centers, designed to SERVE the traveling public. Special attention should be paid to the function of toilet facilities in the stations of modern civilized nations, with a view towards replicating these facilities in India. It should be observed and documented how multiple tram and subway lines serve each of these cities in an efficient manner.

    The team should then examine how and why trains run at a far higher rate of speed in other nations than in India, document the processes, and return to improve the efficiency of Indian Railways. The team should determine how trains can run every 90 seconds apart at rush hour in cities such as Seoul, Korea and Tokyo, Japan, and return to implement these principles in India. The team should examine such railway principles as precision rail, heavy-duty rail, continuous-weld-rail, high-speed rail, etc. One can presently look down almost any track in India and see that the track looks like a snake, rather than a precision straight rail line for comfortable high-speed travel. These rails not only restrict speed, but shake the equipment and the passengers apart.

    Rail equipment needs to be reviewed in each of the above nations, including China. Things that need to be implemented in India include TV screens in Chinese sleeping cars, WI-FI in European rail cars, sliding doors for ALL second class or higher sleeping compartments, dining cars as in Europe, USA, Russia, Italy, Spain, France, Switzerland, Canada, Japan, etc., with menus, cooks and kitchens, etc. The new Spartan rail cars used on the Rahdjani Express are a pitiful excuse for First AC rail transport. Whoever approved these Spartan cars should be fired from government service.

    India needs to examine why the nation is so hesitant to connect with neighboring nations by rail, as is done all over Europe, USA-Canada, China-Vietnam, Russia-Mongolia, China-Russia, Mongolia-China, South Africa and it’s northeastern neighbors, Russia-Finland, etc. India has agreed to be a part of the Trans-Asia rail system, but has taken NO steps to implement this international agreement. India is standing by, as if frightened in a closet, and letting China take the lead here. India should proceed immediately to work with China in building a double-tracked high-speed line between Delhi and Beijing. Additional international lines should connect to Yangon, Bangkok, Phnom Penh and Ho Chi Min City; Bhutan and through to China; Kathmandu and through to Lhasa and China; Northwest through China to connect with Moscow; an over-water bridge or tunnel to connect with Sri Lanka. The rail bridge between Denmark and Sweden could be a pattern used to connect to Sri Lanka. Connections to these regional nations would result in an explosion in trade, travel and tourism, creating millions of new jobs. Why can’t someone use logic and foresight and get started in this direction?

  • Bapty.s

    If. Only. India. Had made air India. And. Indian airlines. Private, and similarly. Our railways. Private but keeping our rail tracks. With the govt, and leased properties to private agencies with strict. Rules. On. Accountability, comfort to public, cost control ,to enable our AAM ADMI. And. If I may use the word. Lower strata. Of urban society to use. Indian RLYS. As. Comfortable mode of long distance travel. During summers with family, all this. Would have been possible. With. Deplorable and utilisable assets under RLYS.
    Very sadly. CONGRESS. USED. IT AS VOTE BANK, BROUGHT POLITICS, AND. RLY. MINISTERS HAD NO CLUE. .
    WHY SHLD GOVT BE IN THIS BIZ. AT ALL, AND LOSE AND PRESENT STUPID BUDGETS. RLYS. COULD BE ONE OF THE MOST PLESURABLE WAYS. OF. TRAVELLING. IN INDIA OF CONTINENTAL SIZE, DIFF WEATHER PATTERNS, DIFF FOODS, DIFF LANGUAGES AND TOPOGRAPHY.
    WITH NEW TECHNOLOGIES WE CAN LEAPFROG. OUR RLYS. AND EARN TREMENDOUS. MONEY AND BE ACCOUNTABLE TO PUBLIC. ,BUT. CLOSE THE RAILWAY MINISTRY. .




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