Amidst the publicity blitzkrieg of the T-18 – an indigenously developed semi-high-speed train – comes the gloomy news that India’s first semi-high-speed train called the Tejas is struggling for survival.
Vandalized on its inaugural journey from Mumbai to Goa May last year, the swanky Tejas has been running losses because of poor patronage and is now planned to be run on a second route from Chennai to Madurai. The question is will the Tejas join the ranks of the scores of trains that were cancelled after having been introduced?
The Secundarabad-Rajamundhry Shatabdi, for instance, was initially shrunk to three coaches because of poor occupancy; and finally axed. The New Delhi-Bareilly Shatabdi had only a short life of a few months, while the Lucknow Rajdhani had an even more truncated life. The Howrah-Haldia Azad Express alternated between a good and a bad fortune: Having been discontinued shortly after introduction, introduced again and discontinued finally within a few days.
The point is this: Howsoever huge a technological breakthrough in developing the T-18 might be, the build-up about the “marvel train” appears misplaced.
Networks of the Indian Railways are mixed (with goods and passenger trains plying on the same track) and also hugely over-saturated. Under the circumstances, introduction of a train such as T-18 or the Tejas is akin to running a Ferrari on crowded Indian streets alongside hand-pulled bullock carts and trolley-fitted tractors.
The argument can never be that – because current conditions are challenging – the Indian Railways must not work on a futuristic vision of providing for an efficient and modern transport system. Indeed, Indian engineers also need to be complimented for having developed a homegrown and a modern semi-high-speed train at approximately half the cost of such rakes in the international market for the first time. The cautionary note is just about this: The T-18 must not be allowed to meet the fate of the Tejas or the Gatimaan – India’s fastest train. Ticket prices are higher on these trains, but both take the same amount of travel time on their respective routes because the networks are congested.
The commendable aspect is not just that the Waltair division of the Indian Railways has come up with an international class sports stadium in a record time of eight months. The big positive is that Mukul Saran Mathur, Divisional Railway Manager, has formalised a registered body to conduct sporting activities, permitting non-railway personnel to use the services on a payment basis.
The Indian Railways' record at sports promotion has been impressive and its achievements are many. Cricketers such as Murli Karthik, Sanjay Bangar and Mahendra Singh Dhoni have cut their teeth in railway teams, while the state-owned transporter has also produced hockey greats including Ashok Kumar and Zafar Iqbal. Mithali Raj and 10 other women cricketers have been associated with the Railways, while Asian Games gold medalist wrestler Sushil Kumar continues to serve with the Railways. Recently, the Railways announced a new sports policy aimed at facilitating the promotion of recognised sportspersons and coaches to the officer’s grade.
Little Miss Muffet
If imageries of railway colonies of yore have tucked at the heart sometime or the other, Asansol is the place to go. India’s first rail line in the East was built between Howrah and Raniganj. Since the then Maharaja of the princely kingdom of Raniganj was unwilling and the Maharaja of Asansol was well disposed to the idea of sparing land; the railway colony of the area came up at the latter location. The more than 100 year old residences and buildings have continued to exist but had remained in a ramshackle condition until late.
Prashant Kumar Mishra, current Divisional Railway Manager of Asansol, has not only restored the structures to its old Victorian glory but also organised what is called India’s first heritage walk through a railway colony. In a domino effect of some kind, the Chief Mechanical Engineer of the Kolkata-based South Eastern Railways (formerly called the Bombay Nagpur Railway) has decided to replicate the effort in his area.
Heritage conservation has been the name of the game in past months. Miss Muffet – India’s first steam powered Inspection Car – has been brought into running condition at the Jamalpur workshop. The DK Publishers, meanwhile, have started work on an encyclopaedia of India’s rail heritage.