New Delhi: The decision to allow railway wagons to be loaded with more freight than the norm, thereby turning around the finances of the Indian Railways, may have taken a toll on railway tracks, but “it was a 100% safe decision”, said J.P. Batra, former chairman of Railway Board.
Batra’s term as the head of the railway’s apex decision -making body came to an end on Tuesday.
Batra added that the rail ministry was spending more on maintaining and replacing rails, replacing tracks at more regular intervals and adopting modern methods of track testing.
The former chairman of the Railway Board also said the ministry had started ultrasonic testing of the rails more frequently than in the past.
Growth oriented: J.P. Batra, former chairman of the Railway Board
Batra said it was important that the railways increase freight loads if it wanted to take advantage of an economy that was doing well.
He added that the decision (to increase permissible axle load or the amount of freight that could be loaded) was taken at a time when more than half of the Rs17,000 crore set aside for safety works—including track strengthening—under the Special Railway Safety Fund had been utilized.
According to Batra, track maintenance has become a heavily mechanized function in the railways.
He added that outsourcing maintenance to private vendors across railway zones was an option.
The man who was chairman of the Railway Board at a time when it posted a record Rs20,000 crore cash surplus for the first nine months of 2006- 07 said that such an exceptional performance would not have been possible if the railways had stood rooted in tradition. “Traffic was available for the asking. It was an opportunity that needed to be encashed,” he added.
According to Batra, one of his greatest regrets when looking back at his tenure as chairman of the Railway Board, was the slow pace of progress of high-speed railway projects in the country.
“If we want to be a superpower by 2020, then we should have already started work on at least one high-speed network by now,” he said.
Batra added that seven state governments had agreed to shell out money for carrying out feasibility studies for the project but the ministry had not moved fast enough, he said.
“The problem is that the unions, politicians and all stake holders need to be educated better on the benefits of high speed rail,” he said.
Batra also said private capital had a huge role to play in ensuring that the railways continued to grow.
“We have a shortage of around Rs90,000 crore in the 11th plan (2007-12), which would need to be sourced through public-private partnerships. I would urge that we should continue to invest heavily in our infrastructure. Otherwise, we will head back to the days when we were growing at 4%,” he added.