CAG finds lapses in railways’ freight services, safety plan

CAG finds lapses in railways’ freight services, safety plan

New Delhi: An audit has found lapses in Indian Railways’ freight services and in a 10-year, Rs31,835 crore corporate safety plan, raising questions about passenger safety at a time when the national transporter is being criticized for a spate of accidents.

The Comptroller and Auditor General, the government’s external auditor, revealed several safety concerns, including running overaged locomotives, not conducting prescribed safety audits and leaving a huge number of safety-related posts vacant.

The railways has also not paid enough attention to the freight business, its main money earner, with current infrastructure being overstretched, the audit report has found.

“Infrastructure augmentation was, therefore, not commensurate with the projected growth in freight traffic and the Indian Railways had a huge throw forward of 408 projects costing Rs1,41,015 crore (including the dedicated freight corridor) as at the end of March 2009," the report said.

The railways had formulated a corporate safety plan in August 2003, which was aimed at introducing systemic reforms and improving performance.

The report found that as many as 223 diesel locomotives out of a fleet of 4,163 were past the prescribed life of 35 years. Moreover, poor maintenance led to as many as 1,382 locomotives out of 5,533 being inoperable.

The continued use of overaged assets could have safety implications, said deputy comptroller and auditor general Narendra Singh. He said the railways contended that only those locomotives that are considered safe are being run.

Despite proposing to fill all safety-related posts on a priority, 86,108 such posts continue to remain unfilled, again raising questions about passenger safety, Singh said.

Several railway zones also failed to meet prescribed standards in reduction of defects in coaches, tracks and overhead equipment.

The national transporter has also been pulled up for its inability to increase the procurement of goods, wagons and locomotives.

Public and private wagon manufacturers continued to supply only 33% to 51% of contracted quantity, adversely affecting availability of wagons, the report added.

Claiming that the railways freight business was facing an existential dilemma, Akhileshwar Sahay, a former railway official and currently president at project management consultancy Feedback Ventures Pvt Ltd, said the railways was unable to even carry the freight the market offered because its wagons and physical infrastructure were overstretched.

“The level of infrastructure and wagons is such that even if the market offers 10-15% more (freight to be loaded) then you (the railways) don’t have the capacity to carry," Sahay said.