Facing flak for poor punctuality figures over the past year, IR has decided to target 90% average punctuality figures for 2018-19, according to various news reports. Only 71.3% trains made it in time in 2017-18, according to IR. Timeliness had earlier declined from 77.4% in 2015-16 to 76.69% in 2016-17. The year 2017-18 saw a further dip of 5%.
The deterioration in timely running of trains has been attributed to aggressively scheduled maintenance activities by IR. The Minister of Railways, Piyush Goyal, ordered putting safety related safety and maintenance activities on top priority, soon after taking charge amidst a series of accidents that resulted in several deaths.
According to insiders, one of the important factors behind the accidents was an increasing backlog of maintenance on track and equipment. This was due to lack of time slots available for maintenance over several years. IR’s major trunk routes, that carry most of the freight and passenger traffic, are known to be operating at well beyond design capacity. As a result, rail fractures and other failures had increased significantly, leading to derailments.
Having put maintenance on top priority, trains were often held up at various points while the section ahead was put under block to clear a backlog of inspection, repairs and replacements. Resources were diverted from non-maintenance activities to ensure maximum throughput within the limited blocks that were available
With maintenance activities continuing, a target of 90% looks like a very ambitious task. In order to achieve this, maintenance schedules are being streamlined, and long blocks are now expected to be scheduled to low traffic days like Sundays, as was recently announced by the minister.
However, with the best performance in the past 3 years being 77.4 percent at a time when maintenance was not as aggressively pursued, more work in different areas is likely to be required to achieve targets.