On the day (12 December 2015) India and Japan inked an agreement on the Bullet Train and later in the evening Prime Ministers of both the countries flew to Narendra Modi’s parliamentary constituency, Varanasi, most long distance trains whistling through this holy city or through Mughalsarai, a big railway junction, just across river Ganga, were running quite late.
Trains running on the busy Howrah-New Delhi Grand Chord route have to either touch Mughalsarai or Varanasi––some go through both––to reach their destinations.
These trains include about half a dozen pairs of Rajdhanis, Garib Raths, Sampoorna Kranti, Purva Express, Kalka Mail and several other equally premier ones.
Some of them such as Malda-Delhi Farraka Exress, Islampur-Patna-New Delhi Magadh Express, Danapur-Anand Vihar Jansadharan Express, to name a few, rarely run on time––six hours late is quite normal. Sometimes they have to be cancelled.
Dense fog all over north India is blamed for this inordinate delay during winter season. But what is strange is that while all the important trains on this route were late by several hours in reaching their endpoints on this historic day, New Delhi-Patna Rajdhani reached Bihar’s capital on time.
Why had fog no impact on this train when it runs at much faster speed?
“As Rajdhanis and Shatabdis are prestigious trains, tracks are kept clear for them till next station. Rest of the trains run on the antiquated technology, which we can replace in no time in less than Rs 98,000 crore required for Bullet train,” came the reply from a senior railway officer.
Apart from inordinate delay, head-on collisions and other mishaps are common occurrences as loco-pilots often over-shoot signals because of poor visibility.
Early this month an EMU driver was killed and a couple of others injured when his train hit a stationary express train not far away from Delhi.
Fog is not a phenomenon confined to India. Other developed countries, most of them situated in the northern hemisphere, which includes Japan, have to face such situation. But they have overcome hurdles like snowfall, fog, storm, rain, etc long back. The numbers of accidents too are quite low though trains run much faster.
In India most express trains run at a maximum speed of 120 km per hours. Those having LHB rakes touch 130 km per hour if the track condition is good. There is need to recall that when Howrah-New Delhi Rajdhani Express started its first journey way back in 1969 its maximum speed was around 120 km per hour. When the same train rolled down from a bridge near Rafiganj in Bihar on September 9, 2002 it was running at the speed of 126.6 km per hour.
Only Bhopal Shatabadi runs at 150 km per hour between New Delhi and Agra.
If everything remains perfect the Ahmedabad-Mumbai Bullet may start running with triple speed in next seven years.
But the 163 year old journey of Indian Railways was never very fast. Not to blame natural calamities, shutdowns (bandh), dharna and other agitations, trains run late even when the condition is normal.
For example, Gaya-Anand Vihar Garib Rath and Gaya-New Delhi Mahabodhi Express reached their destinations 13 and 16 hours late on November 10 and 11 respectively––that is just ahead of Diwali. There was no fog then.
Incidentally, Bodh Gaya attracts highest number of international tourists and pilgrims as the city is important both for Buddhists and Hindus. The truth is that these two trains seldom run on time, yet we are talking of promoting tourism.
An exasperated Danish tourist travelling in a three-tier compartment of Mahabodhi Express on that day asked a fellow Indian passenger: “When will the train reach New Delhi?” “No idea,” was the reply.
Similarly, for Hareram Yadav, a BSF personnel posted on LoC in Kupwara, returning home with the family is always a very agonizing experience as para-military and army personnel manning the border cannot get reservations done in advance. The poor constable has to first go to Fazilka, where his wife and two children live in officially provided residence; pick them up to travel to Bhagalpur via Delhi every time without reservation. This year too they had to travel in the crowded Anand Vihar-Bhagalpur Vikramshila Express––ironically named after the ancient university.
“We lose more than six days in travelling up and down every time we visit home. This is too much when we annually get 75 days leave, including CL,” he said.
Added to the complicated route, his train reached Bhagalpur more than eight hours late this year. Yet he doesn’t complain as he is used to the routine.
(The writer is a Senior Journalist and Commentator. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)
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