It was not a smooth ride for the Railways in 2009 with accidents, derailments and hijacking of the prestigious Rajdhani train affecting its functioning even as Minister Mamata Banerjee’s frequent absence from Railway Board invited criticism from some quarters.
During the fag end of the year, she tabled a ‘white paper’ in Parliament on Railways financial health which dismissed her predecessor Lalu Prasad’s claim of an impressive turnaround during his tenure.
While Lalu dismissed the ‘white paper’ as a ‘black paper’, Ms. Mamata maintained that Railways’ performance during 2004-09 was “below par“.
Notwithstanding this, Railways earnings registered a steady growth with about nine per cent rise till November, earning Rs 55,586.69 crore as compared to Rs 51,117.55 crore during the same period last year.
But despite the growth in earnings, accidents happened with alarming regularity, raising concerns about passengers’ safety.
In October, 22 people were killed and as many injured near Mathura station when Goa Express hit the stationary Mewar Express from behind. In less than a fortnight following the mishap, another accident near Jaipur claimed seven lives when Jodhpur-Delhi superfast derailed.
Ms. Mamata’s frequent absence from the Railway Board and spending maximum time in West Bengal also drew flak from her critics. However, an unfazed Ms. Mamata maintained that she was discharging her responsibility dutifully and “it was not important whether I am in Delhi or Kolkata“.
In order to clean up the system, Ms. Mamata replaced chairmen of all 12 Railway Recruitment Boards across the country. There were complaints of irregularities in recruitment process in RRBs.
The large numbers of vacant posts in key departments including safety and signalling also were a cause of concern for railways.
The launching of Duronto trains connecting Metro cities, a first of its kind non-stop superfast with Rajdhani like facilities, became an instant hit with passengers.
There were five Duronto trains out of 14 announced in Rail Budget launched so far.
However, though announced in the budget, the low fare Yuva trains, between Delhi—Mumbai and Mumbai-Kolkata, are yet to be launched. The train with AC chair car facility offer a fare of Rs 299 for 1,500 km and Rs 399 for beyond that.
Railways also witnessed formation of several committees -- six to be precise -- in the year. While High-Power Monitoring Committee on implementation of railway projects, Expert Committee, Heritage Committee and another expert panel on use of ICT in Railways were formed for the first time, the PSU also revamped Passenger Amenities Committee and Passenger Services Committee.
Passengers Services Committee recommended for launch a dedicated railway television channel. The Heritage Committee is keen on setting up film cities on railway land.