If wishes were Indian Railways under the tutelage of Lalu Prasad, 150-kilometre an hour express trains would have been running by now between New Delhi and Howrah (via Patna, the route longer than the Dhanbad route) by 2007-08. Another similar train would have started running between New Delhi and Chennai this year (2009).
There was also a promise to commence feasibility studies for a “world class high-speed dedicated passenger corridor fit for running 250 to 300 kmph (kilometers per hour)” trains. Ahmedabad-Mumbai had been identified for feasibility services. Since such a corridor involves high cost, it would be developed as a separate project.
These promises were not the off-the-cuff remarks by former Railway Minister, but are part of a solid official documents to support them.
This document is called the “Integrated Railway Modernisation Plan (2005-2010)” was published by the Government of India, Ministry of Railways (Railway Board), in November 2004. This document was also placed on the Tables of Parliament.
The fast trains on Indian Railways still continue to run at 130 kilometres an hour (Rajdhanis and Shatabdis) and there is no likelihood of this speed being exceeded in the near future. Well, there is a myth that the New Delhi-Bhopal Shatabdi express runs at 150 kmph. Actually, it does so on a small stretch on the New Delhi-Agra Cantt route of the Central Railway.
The truth is that when this train was introduced in February 1989 by the then Railway Minister Madhavrao Scindia, he had insisted with the Railway Board that this train (it passes through Gwalior, from where the Scindia hailed) should touch at least a 140-kmph speed limit at some points on the New Delhi-Agra Cantt section and to our impression (a Press party had accompanied the Minister for the inaugural run) was that the train did touch 140 kms an hour at some points. (There was no speedometers inside the coaches).
When Lalu had become the Railway Minister in 2004, he appears to have been fired with the idea of running a train at a speed higher than the Bhopal Shatabdi did, which means that some new trains would run at least at about 150 kmph. However, the Railway Board appears to have suggested that it would be convenient to increase the maximum speed of the Bhopal Shatabdi to 150 kmph from 140 kmph.
When this idea was mooted, the Commissioner of Railway Safety (CSR) intervened saying that certain security measures would have to be undertaken in order to raise the speed by even 10 kmph.
Thus the Bhopal Shatabdi did earn the distinction of being the fastest train on the Indian Railways system.
It is proposed to enhanced the thrust in the areas of induction of modern coaches, on all Shatabdi and Rajdhani trains, computerisation of passenger information system and coaching information system, introduction of modular toilets in trains, mechanical cleaning of platforms, and use of crashworthy and fire-retardant coaches etc. in passenger business segment. Experiments are on to introduce light-weight corrosion-free aluminium wagons with higher payload capability.
However, Lalu’s problems have been introduction of the high-speed trains. He had stated: “Two inter-city corridors Delhi-Patna-Howrah and Delhi-Chennai will be developed to run 150-kmph trains using latest technology high speed coaches. Similarly, it is proposed to introduce running of freight trains at 100 kmph on the high density Golden Qadrilateral and its diagonals connecting the four metropolitan cities to meet the projected growth of freight traffic in core sectors.”
Lalu had also stated “It is expected that the Integrated Railway Modernisation Plan will ensure that the Railways not only sustain the current level of performance but are also able to cater to the growing demands of the passenger and freight traffic, provide modern and efficient services to the millions of its customers and become a world class railway system in the foreseeable future.”
One may ask Lalu what had prevented him from introducing the 150-kmph high-speed trains he had promised in the 2004 document. Or, will Madam Mamata Bannerjee fulfill these promises, she having become the successor Minister of Railways?