2018, a year of 'many firsts' for Indian Railways: Piyush Goyal
New Delhi: If Indian Railways were to attempt a tagline for its achievements over this year, it would probably be - '2018, a year of many firsts', says Railway Minister Piyush Goyal.
While train delays, bad quality of food, overcharging by caterers remained the pet peeves of passengers through the year, 2018 marked the coming of age of railways - it manufactured India's fastest train, commissioned its longest bridge, converted a diesel loco into an electric one for the first time, built its first transport university, its first air-conditioned local train and perhaps its biggest first in the last three decades - lowest accident figures.
However, the role of the railways came under the scanner after the Amritsar train mishap on Dussehra in which 58 people were killed. Questions were raised as to how railways gave the green signal to a fast train despite the presence of a huge crowd on the tracks.
According to Goyal, safety has been given the highest priority and this year saw the lowest ever rail accidents".
"Over the last four and a half years we have inculcated a new culture of implementing transformative reforms, setting ambitious targets and pushing the boundaries to give a green signal to growth. As a result, the past year has emerged as a year of many firsts' for Indian Railways," Goyal told PTI.
While in 2017-2018 till March, there were 73 accidents, since April there were 45 such cases till December 15. During April-December last year, there were 54 such cases.
While the fastest train - Train 18 - manufactured by the Integral Coach Factory, Rae Bareilly at a cost of around Rs 97 crore has touched a maximum speed of 180 kmph, its actual date of commissioning is yet to be finalised. Touted to be India's fastest to replace the Shatabdi trains, T18 will run from Delhi to Varanasi.
However, with just 0.3 per cent of India's railway tracks spread over 60,000 km fit to handle trains running at the speed of up to 160 km per hour, according to an official assessment, only time will tell if such modern trains can actually run on full blast in the present network.
The railways, in another first, is set to come up with an elliptical 40-km track between Jaipur and Phulera at an investment of around Rs 4 billion for the trail of its semi-high speed, and high speed trains. Once this is complete, India will enter a league of countries including the US, Germany, China and Australia that have dedicated tracks for train trials.
"This year also saw the commissioning of the first state-of-the-art 12,000 HP electric locomotive to help power a green and clean railways. The world's first ever conversion of a diesel locomotive into electric will further our aim to become the world's largest electrified rail network.
"There has been unprecedented thrust on infrastructure creation, with the completion of the long delayed Bogibeel Bridge, India's longest road-cum-rail bridge connecting Assam and Arunachal Pradesh," Goyal said.
Asia's second longest bridge was commissioned in Assam by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Christmas Day, 16 years after it had been inaugurated.
The operationalisation of the bridge has cut down travel time between Tinsukia in Assam and Naharlagun in Arunachal Pradesh by around 10 hours.
In yet another first, railways converted a diesel locomotive into an electric one - a feat delivered for the first time in the world - as part of its efforts to completely electrify the broad gauge network.
What was important was that the conversion enhanced the power of the locomotive from 2600 horsepower (hp) to 5000 horsepower and also saved railways money.
2018 will also be remembered as a year in which railways set up its first transport university - the National Rail and Transportation Institute (NRTI), a university in Vadodara, Gujarat. This is the third in the world after Russia and China.
The university opened its doors to the first batch of 103 students from 20 states in two fully-residential undergraduate courses in September.
"With the establishment of India's first Rail University in Vadodara, we have initiated an era of a skilled and talented New Railways' which places India's youth in the driving seat of progress," said Goyal.
He also highlighted how railways this year conducted one of the largest recruitment drives to fill over 1.3 lakh positions to improve safety and services.
Another feather in railways' cap was the first air-conditioned local trains for the Mumbai suburban railways - with automatic doors, thus cutting down on possibilities of commuters falling off trains. More such trains are on the anvil for local travel.
This was also the year in which all grievances were not just expressed online, but with prompt replies and ready help, railways managed to even mitigate some of the anger.
In fact, for the first time, railways came up with apps for almost every aspect of its pubic interface - ticketing, grievance redressal, food menu, tracking trains among others.
"From a revamped website to an app for booking unreserved tickets, ticketing was also modernised. Indian Railways is again becoming a symbol of modernity, which it had exemplified when the first steam engine chugged out of Boribunder. This year is just the start of many firsts," said Goyal.