The South Central Railway (SCR) has recorded impressive earnings in the last fiscal — crossing ₹18,973.14 crore — with highest ever passenger/freight carrying capacities, but this has been marred by punctuality of trains plummeting to 83%.
In the pandemic years, when rail traffic was drastically curtailed, punctuality was 91% in 2021-22 and 94% in 2020-21 while it was 82% in 2019-20 when the usual traffic was on. This could be attributed to the increased number of trains — both passenger and freight, once again crisscrossing the zone, but passengers are left flustered with late arrivals.
Senior officials, seeking anonymity, admit to the lacunae but point out that the trains are forced to run slow in particular sections due to the increasing number of works taken up in the past few years for capacity enhancement of heavy traffic lines for doubling, tripling or quadrupling the sections along with electrification apart from strengthening of tracks to accommodate higher speeds.
Third line works in Kazipet-Balharshah and Gudur-Vijayawada and to Kazipet to Balahrshah sections or about 800 km are under way, while between Guntur-Guntakal of 350 km double line works are under progress. These are high-density routes connecting the north and south states, leading to speed restrictions.
“Traffic blocks are taken for works on particular stretches where the trains are instructed to reduce speeds. At the same time, over 50 trains have been moved to the express/superfast category post pandemic, reducing the running time which they are unable to cope with due to capacity constraints leading to delayed arrivals,” an official explained.
Terminal stations like Secunderabad station have their own issues such as platform availability which is the main cause for trains having unscheduled halts in the suburbs. More number of freight trains due to rising demand and active marketing have added to the capacity, officials add.
Railways top brass is quite concerned about the punctuality going for a toss with SCR General Manager Arun Kumar Jain conducting a detailed review meeting on safety and punctuality along with other issues recently with the principal heads of departments and Divisional Railway Managers (DRMs) of Secunderabad, Hyderabad, Vijayawada, Guntakal, Guntur and Nanded.
Mr.Jain examined the division-wise punctuality statistics of express and mail trains to identify the root cause for issues affecting punctuality and take remedial steps to improve performance such as making action plans for optimal utilisation of the manpower during the traffic blocks to help avoid detentions. With the average speeds of even Vande Bharat trains being about 80 kmph when it could touch 160 kmph, the officers do have a task on their hands.