Railway Reforms

Moving Beyond Vande Bharat: Performance of Indian Railways


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Vande Bharat, Railways related updates

Mains level: Indian railways performance, challenges and way ahead

Vande Bharat

Central Idea

  • The Indian Railways has been in the news lately, with the launch of Vande Bharat trains and their successive introduction in different parts of the country. However, amid the publicity surrounding these new trains, the larger picture and serious issues confronting the Indian Railways are being overlooked. This article aims to evaluate the performance of the Indian Railways, especially in the freight and passenger sectors, and highlights the need for more relevant metrics.

Facts for prelims: Vande Bharat Express

Vande Bharat Express

  • Vande Bharat Express, also known as Train 18, is a semi-high-speed, fully air-conditioned train in India that runs on electric traction. It is named after the country’s national slogan “Vande Mataram” and was designed and manufactured by the Integral Coach Factory in Chennai, India.
  • The train is equipped with modern amenities such as Wi-Fi, an infotainment system, and a GPS-based passenger information system, among others.
  • It has a maximum speed of 180 km/h and is considered to be one of the fastest trains in India.
  • It is designed to be an energy-efficient and eco-friendly train, and is expected to provide a comfortable and safe travel experience to passengers.

Performance and prospect of the Indian Railways, especially in the freight and passenger sectors

  1. Investment in Indian Railways: Since the merger of the Railway Budget with the General Budget in 2017, there has been a shift towards ramping up investments in the Indian Railways. The Annual Plan outlay for the Railways has increased from ₹1,09,935 crore in 2016-17 to ₹2,60,200 crore in the Budget for 2023-24, an increase of 137%. While this unprecedented level of investment is welcome, it must translate into concrete progress towards capacity building, and not just be limited to inputs.
  2. Freight Sector:
  • Rail share of freight traffic: The National Rail Plan 2030 (NRP) aims to raise the rail share in freight traffic vis-à-vis roadways from 27% to 45% by 2050. However, the rail share of freight carried reduced from 51.5% in 2008-09 to 32.4% in 2018-19 for leads over 300 km.
  • Commodity diversification: Almost the entire increase in volume of traffic carried by rail over the decade 2008-09 to 2018-19 has been in short lead traffic (leads up to 300 km) and 55% of the increase was through the transport of just one commodity, viz. coal. As yet, there is no evidence of higher levels of traffic being achieved concurrently with diversification of commodities carried or an increase in rail share vis-à-vis road transport.
  • Average speed of goods trains: The NRP aims to raise the average speed of goods trains to 50 kilometres per hour from the present 25 kmph, which is expected to increase efficiency and reduce transportation costs.
  • Tariff rates for freight: The NRP also calls for a concurrent reduction in tariff rates for freight by up to 30%.
  1. Passenger Sector: Punctuality is a crucial operational index for passenger trains. While published statistics of punctuality usually are above 90%, these figures are arrived at with a dose of adjustment and only the destination arrival time is considered irrespective of the fact that a train might have been off schedule en route at all the important intermediate stations. The Indian Railways should aim to be at least within five minutes (without any adjustment) of the scheduled time.

Vande Bharat

Facts for prelims (Conceptual): Why freight trains are switching to aluminium wagons?

  • Consume less energy and reduce carbon emissions: Aluminium trains consume less energy and the metal is recyclable. It is estimated that switching to aluminium will save 1,500 tonnes of carbon emissions a year.
  • Lighter as compared to steel: They are lighter by up to 30% compared to stainless steel coaches. These coaches, being lighter than stainless steel ones, are preferred for higher speed systems.
  • Less time to manufacture: Aluminium trains take less time to manufacture and thus can help speed up capacity for production.
  • Low haulage cost and high payload capacity: They offer low haulage cost and higher payload, better fuel efficiency and lower pollution levels.
  • Expected to improve freight transportation: The new metal trains will help the Railways hike its share in overall freight transportation from the current 18%.

 Need for an annual report

  • Report on the lines of the annual Economic Survey: Government should consider tabling an annual report on the performance of the Railways in Parliament on the lines of the annual Economic Survey prepared by the Finance Ministry ahead of the General Budget.
  • Not just for publicity pamphlet but a resource for policymakers: This report, unlike a publicity pamphlet like the Indian Railways Year Book, should be an internal performance audit that should serve as a valuable resource for policymakers, serious students and also researchers in the field of rail transport.

Way ahead

  • International standards in punctuality: If stations in the Indian Railways network can be remodelled to international standards, perhaps it is time to aim for international standards in punctuality of trains as well.
  • Evolve an index of punctuality: It is high time to move away from the traditional concept of destination punctuality and evolve an index of punctuality that will also reflect the punctuality at select intermediate stations, at least for all mail/express trains.
  • Passenger experience: The focus should be to improve overall passenger experience, not merely statistics.
  • Other areas for assessment: There are several other areas that need critical analysis, such as financial performance, physical performance, safety, organizational/human resource issues, project execution, customer relations, and the effect of the dedicated freight corridors on the Indian Railways system capacity.

Indian Railways


  • The Indian Railways is the prime transporter and the largest public undertaking in the country, and it is crucial that its performance is evaluated using relevant metrics. While the introduction of Vande Bharat trains is a success story, it must not be the only focus. The focus should be on improving overall passenger experience and performance in the freight sector, and not merely on statistics.

Mains Question

Q. The consecutive introduction of Vande Bharat trains is a success story so far. In this backdrop Evaluate the performance of Indian railways and suggest measures to further improve the passenger experience.

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