Indian railways which started with the first steam engine chugging from Mumbai to Thane ( a distance of 34 km) in 1853 has grown to become one of the largest rail networks in the world. The unique feature of the railways in 21st century is that it is still a government monopoly which is a boon in itself. It is catering to a large section of the population and it is essential for this service (in fact all the transport services) to be a government monopoly because it affects the right to free movement. Introduction of cushioned seats for second class travel, commissioning of exotic tour packages on royal trains, providing employment to approximately 1.6 million people, introduction of anti collision devices, the engineering marvel Konkan railways are some of the major contributions of the Indian railways to this country.
Enough of appreciation :). Let us not be complacent and focus on the negative aspects of Indian railways. The tone of the following passage may be critical but the intentions are good. First of all, the problem with Indian Railways as with any other government enterprise is the failure to distinguish between public good (philanthropy) and business. If you look from the perspective of a business, Indian railways is providing a service. You can go a long way in improving the kind of service relative to what is provided today. Mind me, you can even beat the airways. Imagine a railways where you are greeted with rail hostesses and rail stewards, railway stations which do not stink because of open defecation, waiting rooms which are traveler friendly, pantries which provide hygienically prepared nutritious food, etc. The concept of railway stations also needs a major overhaul. The stations are meant for the passengers and thus strict entry and exit control is to be provided by the Railway Police Force. Beggars and ticketless passengers are a common scene on the Indian trains and in the railway stations. I am in no way trying to deprive these helpless human beings from their conventional shelters. A part of the railways profits can be earmarked for rehabilitation of such beggars. Separate coaches can be attached for below poverty line passengers (particularly beggars) if at all railways in interested in philanthropy.
Another problem with the railways is that in every city, you are greeted with slums as the train approaches the railway station. It is not a good way to start your day by being greeted with these slums though they are a harsh reality yet to receive the government’s ‘serious’ attention. Railways can devise a program along with the ministry of urban development in the reconstruction of the slums adjoining the rail ways. A plan can also be formulated with the help of department of horticulture, ministry of agriculture to landscape the fringes on either side of the railways that will provide a soothing experience to the passengers. Use of central ducts for ventilation instead of open windows will not only eliminate the problem of dust but also increase the speed of the train providing an acoustically more quiet environment within the train.
A ‘layman’ like me could think of so many things to improve the railways. I hope, some of these have already been thought of by the many luminaries who lead this great organization. I accept that there are problems in implementation of many of the above as the saying goes, it is “Easier said than done”. Nevertheless, they are not ‘impossible’. All that is required is determination of the upper levels of the administration and constant efforts to provide the best service.