NEW DELHI: Railways had a difficult year grappling with mounting revenue shortfall and facing challenge in expenditure and the Kanpur mishap, one of the worst in decades that snuffed out over 150 lives, exposed glaring safety lapses.
The year 2016 will also be remembered for government taking a historic decision of doing away with separate Rail Budget, Railways undertaking much-awaited changes in restructuring of its administration aiming at introducing accountability in functioning.
On the sunny side, the year saw introduction of new class of services like Mahamanya Express, Gatimaan Express and Humsafar Express redefining passengers travel experience in trains.
Owing to less loadings demand and poor growth in passenger bookings in 2016, there was a shortfall of about Rs 14,000 crore in total revenue earnings besides the cross-subsidy in passenger segment touching at Rs 33,000 crore and the Pay Commission commitments staring at Rs 32,000 crore. Acknowledging the difficult market condition that the national transporter witnessed during the year, Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu said, "2016 was a difficult year. It was a difficult year in terms of freight. Coal, steel, cement, iron ore all the major commodities that Railways handle witnessed less demand." He further said, "There are perpetual issues, like salary burden of Railways is very high. The costs are pre-determined so we can't do nothing about it. The revenues are dependent on five commodities. So expenditure is a challenge for Railways.
We will start addressing these challenges in 2017 more." However, Prabhu said despite challenges, "Railways was ready to handle 1.2 billion of cargo loadings. First time Railways has created such capacity ahead of demand."
However, derailment of 14 coaches of Indore-Patna Express at Pukhrayan near Kanpur in the early hours of November 21 claiming over 150 lives and injuring more than 200 passengers exposed glaring safety lapses and highlighted the urgent need for a separate safety fund to strengthen and upgrade rail infrastructure.
Though Railway Safety Commission is yet to submit the inquiry report, possible rail fracture highlighting poor maintenance of track seem to be reason behind the accident.