Indian Railway may be wasting $10 billion worth of resources

Indian Railway may be wasting $10 billion worth of resources

Indian Railway may be wasting $10 billion worth of resourcesRailways are an essential part of the transportation infrastructure of any large economy. They have to be efficient and widespread in India. The primary reason is that for moving large numbers of people and large volumes of goods, it is the most effective mode of transportation. Aviation and road transportation have their place but cannot form the backbone of the transportation system because they are costly compared to steel-wheels on steel rails.

The Indian Railways can be cited for many reasons but being modern and efficient is not one of them. And the main reason behind why it is dilapidated, slow and inefficient is that it is Government-owned. That is another way of saying that it is public property and therefore nobody owns it.

It need not be necessarily so but when something is owned by nobody, it suffers from neglect and general abuse. That is a law of human nature, almost akin to a law of nature like gravity but not quite as all pervasive.

Neglect and waste of railway property is evident, and to me it is heartbreaking. Every rail journey is marred by the recognition that the railways could have been otherwise. Here’s what I mean.

Take a look outside on your next train journey in India. You will see that next to the tracks lie unused sleepers and steel rails. Sleepers used to be made of wood but now they are made of steel-reinforced concrete. Every stretch of track has dozens of them unused, wasting and weathering away. From the steel tracks just lying around, you can tell that a significant portion of steel rails bought never get used.

Let’s do a back-of-the-envelope calculation. From eyeballing the side of the tracks, I estimate that there’s one sleeper per 5 metres of track just wasting away. That’s about 200 sleepers per kilometre of track. India has 65,000 kilometres of track. Assume conservatively that each sleeper was acquired by the railways at a cost of Rs 5,000. Doing the arithmetic gives us a total of 13 million sleepers wasted at a total cost of Rs 65 billion (or Rs 6,500 crores).

Now let’s do the numbers for the waste of steel tracks. Two assumptions here. One, the cost of per kilometre of track: Rs 50 lakhs. Second, the length of track lying wasted next to each kilometre of track in use: 0.5 km. Total cost of wasted track: Rs 162.5 billion (or Rs 16,250 crores).

Add up the two numbers and you get around Rs 23,000 crores. Just to get a perspective on that, the revenue of Indian Railways (2011-2012) was around Rs 100,000 crores, and a net income of Rs 14,000 crores. So the money wasted in the unused sleepers and track (over the last few decades) represents around 25 per cent of the annual revenues of the railways.

A final word on these numbers: These are estimates with very little hard data to back them up. Estimating magnitudes helps us figure out whether it is worthwhile or not to pursue a deeper investigation. The estimate says that the waste due to unused material lying around the tracks is Rs 23,000 crores – or let’s say $5 billion.

What that tells us is that the waste is not a mere $100 million or that it is not $20 billion. It could be that the actual number lies between $3 and $10 billion.

What that means and what must be done, I will go into the next time.

Offstumped Report

  • rajendrasaxena

    he has no idea of railway working .no new rails or sleepers lying unused in track. they are used within a month of unloading

  • Sandeep Barve

    Sir – with due respect, this is a bit too much of generalisation and hyperbole! You cant be serious about this!

  • Bala Jayakar


    I’m a novice in the rail business.I believe the concrete sleepers laid per KM is 1,660 or about for broad gauge.
    Can an expert comment what will be the cost per KM for a straight alignment using concrete sleepers, ballast and quantity per KM.
    I look forward to your comments, Sir!

    Good day.

  • rajendrasaxena

    It is right that sleeper density is 1660 sleeper per km .for a straight alignment in plain terrain cost will be about Rs 5 cr per km of track where as same may be as high as 10-12 cr per km in hilly terrain . If track is on column as in Metro , cost is as high as Rs 400 cr per km

  • krishnan

    Now if you show them the way, these congi goons will loot them as well

  • Ravi Shankar

    The Article writer has no knowledge of Railways. Sleepers lying alongside tracks !!!

    They must be used rails waiting to be auctioned. Regarding sleepers, they keep replacing the damaged sleepers and replace with new ones. The old ones are kept alongside the tracks until they are disposed. Even worn out rails are replaced without undue delay.

  • Sadiq

    As we are moving towards the fast transportation system, my personal appeal to Andhra government (State Government) and central government is to outsource one route to China as both nations have come together and lets then compare this single route (Vijayawada/Kanuru – Kankipad – Vuyyur – Pammarru – Nimmakurru – Nidamolu – Machlipatnam) with other routes. I am
    confident that there will be 70:30 gaps in the overall project. Some factors you will be noticing are:
    1. Less corruption
    2. Quality work
    3. Delivery on time
    4. More outcome

    Bottom line of my point is the entire comparison done by anyone is basically on corrupted money. Whatever work is still done is biased and mislead to exploitation. It is golden chance to new government to bring down the biased figures to actual figures and look forward in the development of the country.

  • James