India's Top 100 Digital Stars 2023

E. Sreedharan: Railway Board Needs To Shed Some Of Its Executive Powers

Former managing director of Delhi Metro E. Sreedharan feels that the Railway Board needs to delegate authority to zonal railways to improve efficiency and safety

Published: Jan 31, 2012 06:34:06 AM IST
Updated: Jan 31, 2012 11:30:50 AM IST
E. Sreedharan: Railway Board Needs To Shed Some Of Its Executive Powers
Image: Amit Dave/ Reuters

Railways is the lifeline of the nation. It has been doing a wonderful service so far. But it has not been keeping pace with the advances made in rail technology worldwide. Today, I am not confident of sending my family on a train given the number of accidents. So, improving safety of the railways is a very urgent necessity. But to be truly world class, the Indian Railways also needs to improve its speed.

For safety, the Railways urgently needs to adopt the automatic signaling systems, which improve safety by almost 80 percent, [and ensure they] are installed throughout the country. Such systems also help run more trains on different lines, thereby contributing to the overall efficiency of the network. We also need to replace level crossings with rail over-bridges. As of now, more than 300 people die each year in level crossing accidents.

For better speed, Railways needs to disaggregate freight traffic from passenger lines. The Dedicated Freight Corridor project is already planned and is a step in the right direction. Similarly, at a number of places in the country, additional lines to carry freight should be built. High-speed trains are also required to improve on transit time and a pilot project is already underway in Kerala. The speed of goods trains should be improved from around 70 kmph to 120 kmph.

There is also the issue of passenger comfort and overall hygiene. The toilets installed in trains are a huge eyesore and we need to move towards discharge toilets such as the ones used in planes. The passenger trains should have better coaches that provide better comfort to passengers. But to implement these ideas, decision making has to be quick and effective.

Today, the pace at which decisions are taken by the Railway Board is slow. This is because the Board has centralised control. Powers have to be delegated to general managers and other officers in order to improve the ability of the railways to deliver. I am not advocating corporatising the Railways. It is a service organisation and therefore should be under government control. However, the organisation has to be run on business lines.

Across the world, many railways have undergone a process of privatisation. But fortunately, the Indian Railways is still under government control. If you study the privatisation efforts in the rail sector in these countries, one will notice that although they have managed to modernise at a fast pace, the role of the Railways in the transport sector is coming down in such places due to tariff issues.

However, structural reforms are required at the Railway Board. Today, the Board serves as the ministry as well as the executive. There is a need for the Board to preserve its role as the ministry and shed its executive powers. There is no need for the Board to approve every tender that needs to be floated by the ministry. This leads to a slow system of decision-making, which in turn, causes delays in ordering equipment and completing important projects on time.

The railway bureaucracy today takes decisions that are not in line with its commercial interests as well. For instance, after handing over the charge of catering to the IRCTC, one fine day the ministry decided to take over. If a particular organisation has been given charge of running a particular business, it needs to be given support as well. Political interference in day to day matters is another cause for concern and the officials should have spine and be able to argue their point.

In my opinion, the Railway Board needs to shed some of its executive powers and delegate authority to the zonal railways in order to ensure that the Railways modernises and improves its efficiency and safety.

(As told to K.P. Narayana Kumar)

What needs to be done

☛ Adopt Automatic Signaling Systems throughout the country to improve safety by 80 percent.
☛ Improve speeds by disaggregating freight traffic from passenger lines.
☛ For quicker decision making, the Railway Board must delegate some of its executive powers.

E. Sreedharan, is a Former Managing Director of Delhi Metro Rail Corporation.

(This story appears in the 03 February, 2012 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)

Post Your Comment
Required, will not be published
All comments are moderated
  • Ravi

    A very Good Input to Railways adminitsration. It needs to be given a thought over the issued brought forward. Looking at diversity of our Rail Network Auto Signalling will pass through different impediments which will entail to additional deployment of skilled manpower at maintainer and technician level.Also since Auto Signalling will work on Continuous track circuiting, the safely and security aspect will be very important criteria to be reckoned upon. Both these aspect will not fulfilled the issues raised by Mr. Sreedharan. I would suggest to work toward COMMUNICATION BASED SIGNALLING. This would get rid of wired stuff in a greater extent and more towards Wirelss Communication. Let's start thinking in this direction as the trigger given by Mr. Sreedharan. Thanks for publishing such a article on Railways.... God Bless...

    on Feb 15, 2012
  • Sriramulu

    Respected sir, It is very interesting article and at least now the railways will wake up after reading this article. However, this is India, it will not happen by overnight it will go step by step and as far as decision is concerned never give the delegation power to manager they are prone to make double mistakes. With regard to signals, it has to do fully automatic throughout the country that will greatly cut down the rate of accidents. You also mentioned about Tender process which also delegates to the subordinate manager. Sir, this is Tender - from here all the problems starts if you start delegating to the subordinates. In my view it should be done through with higher authorities only. In India the railways never converted private. You think the Indian economy is good but it becomes private then real doldrums starts so stop thinking of privatisation. This is highly not possible in India. Anyway, thanks for very good article.

    on Feb 13, 2012
  • Kameswararao

    Sir has given some important suggestions for improving and safety of Railways in technological aspect. But the important point in human angle is missing that is, the strength of employees is reducing. The present strength is reduced from 17.5. lakhs to 13.5 lakhs, though stations, trains, speed of the trains increased. The stress on strength of the employee increased. Hence an important decision is required to fill up all vacancies and to lift the ban on recruitment. In the interest of safety and development of Railways. This facilitates for our youth for getting employment also. We have to see our mother land also not only business.

    on Feb 5, 2012
  • Mukesh Kumar

    Indian railways has tremendous scope for improvement. Railways are doing a wonderful job in the service of nation inspite of being polical interference. It can do much more.

    on Jan 31, 2012
  • Chetan

    Nice thoughts Sir ! I am a big fan of yours ! I have tracked the Railway Sector as an Analyst for the last six years and definitely agree that excessive democracy has been detrimental to the cause of railways.

    on Jan 31, 2012
  • Ninan

    Great article. Sreedharan sir will you be blogging or tweeting in the future? Do you have an email id where we can send you ideas or ask questions?

    on Jan 31, 2012