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Indian Railways: Analysing the Budget

March 12th, 2018 No comments

Finances of the Railways were presented along with the Union Budget on February 1, 2018 (the Railways Budget was merged with the Union Budget last year).  In the current Budget Session, Lok Sabha is scheduled to discuss the allocation to the Ministry of Railways.  In light of this, we discuss Railways’ finances, and issues that the transporter has been facing with regard to financing.

What are the different sources of revenue for Railways?

Indian Railways has three primary sources of revenue: (i) its own internal resources (revenue from freight and passenger traffic, leasing of railway land, etc.), (ii) budgetary support from the central government, and (iii) extra budgetary resources (such as market borrowings, institutional financing).

Figure 1Railways’ internal revenue for 2018-19 is estimated at Rs 2,01,090 crore which is 7% higher than the revised estimates of 2017-18.  Majority of this revenue comes from traffic (both freight and passenger), and is estimated at Rs 2,00,840 crore.  In the last few years, Railways has been struggling to run its transportation business, and generate its own revenue.  The growth rate of Railways’ earnings from its core business of running freight and passenger trains has been declining.  This is due to a decline in the growth of both freight and passenger traffic (see Figure 1).  Railways is also slowly losing traffic share to other modes of transport such as roads and airlines.  The share of Railways in total freight traffic has declined from 89% in 1950-51 to 30% in 2011-12.

The Committee on Restructuring Railways (2015) had observed that raising revenue for Railways is a challenge because: (i) investment is made in projects that do not have traffic and hence do not generate revenue, (ii) the efficiency improvements do not result in increasing revenue, and (iii) delays in projects results in cost escalation, which makes it difficult to recover costs.  Railways also provides passenger fares that are heavily subsidised, which results in the passenger business facing losses of around Rs 33,000 crore in a year (in 2014-15).  Passenger fares are also cross-subsidised by charging higher rates for freight.  The consequence is that freight rates have been increasing which has resulted in freight traffic moving towards roads.

Figure 2Figure 2 shows the trends in capital outlay over the last decade.  A decline in internal revenue generation has meant that Railways funds its capital expenditure through budgetary support from the central government and external borrowings.  While the support from central government has mostly remained consistent, Railways’ borrowings have been increasing.  Various committees have noted that an increased reliance on borrowings will further exacerbate the financial situation of Railways.

The total proposed capital outlay (or capital expenditure) for 2018-19 is Rs 1,48,528 crore which is a 24% increase from the 2017-18 revised estimates (Rs 1,20,000 crore).  Majority of this capital expenditure will be financed through borrowings (55%), followed by the budgetary support from the central government (37%).  Railways will fund only 8% of its capital expenditure from its own internal resources.

How can Railways raise more money?

The Committee on Restructuring Railways had suggested that Railways can raise more revenue through private participation in the following ways: (i) service and management contracts, (ii) leasing to and from the private sector, (iii) joint ventures, and (iv) private ownership.  However, private participation in Railways has been muted as compared to other sectors such as roads, and airports.

Figure 3One of the key reasons for the failure of private participation in Railways is that policy making, the regulatory function, and operations are all vested within the same organisation, that is, the Ministry of Railways.  Railways’ monopoly also discourages private sector entry into the market.  The Committee on Restructuring Railways had recommended that the three roles must be separated from each other.  It had also recommended setting up an independent regulator for the sector.  The regulator will monitor whether tariffs are market determined and competitive.

Where does Railways spend its money?

The total expenditure for 2018-19 is projected at Rs 1,88,100 crore, which is 4% higher than 2017-18.  Staff wages and pension together comprise more than half of the Railways’ expenditure.  For 2018-19, the expenditure on staff is estimated at Rs 76,452 crore.  Allocation to the Pension Fund is estimated at Rs 47,600 crore.  These constitute about 66% of the Railways’ expenditure in 2018-19.

Railways’ primary expenditure, which is towards the payment of salaries and pension, has been gradually increasing (with a jump of around 15% each year in 2016-17 and 2017-18 due to implementation of the Seventh Pay Commission recommendations).  Further, the pension bill is expected to increase further in the years to come, as about 40% of the Railways staff was above the age of 50 years in 2016-17.

The Committee on Restructuring Railways (2015) had observed that the expenditure on staff is extremely high and unmanageable.  This expense is not under the control of Railways and keeps increasing with each Pay Commission revision.  It has also been observed that employee costs (including pensions) is one of the key components that reduces Railways’ ability to generate surplus, and allocate resources towards operations.

What is the allocation towards depreciation of assets?

Railways maintains a Depreciation Reserve Fund (DRF) to finance the costs of new assets replacing the old ones.  In 2018-19, appropriation to the DRF is estimated at Rs 500 crore, 90% lower than 2017-18 (Rs 5,000 crore).  In the last few years, appropriation to the DRF has decreased significantly from Rs 7,775 crore in 2014-15 to Rs 5,000 crore last year.  Provisioning Rs 500 crore towards depreciation might be an extremely small amount considering the scale of infrastructure managed by the Indian Railways, and the requirement to replace old assets to ensure safety.

The Standing Committee on Railways (2015) had observed that appropriation to the DRF is the residual amount after appropriation to the Pension Fund, instead of the actual requirement for maintenance of assets.  Under-provisioning for the DRF has also been observed as one of the reasons behind the decline in track renewals, and procurement of wagons and coaches.

Is there any provision towards safety?

Last year, the Rashtriya Rail Sanraksha Kosh was created to provide for passenger safety.  It was to have a corpus of one lakh crore rupees over a period of five years (Rs 20,000 crore per year).  The central government was to provide a seed amount of Rs 1,000 crore, and the remaining amount would be raised by the Railways from their own revenues or other sources.

As per the revised estimates of 2017-18, no money was allocated towards this fund.  In 2018-19, Rs 5,000 crore has been allocated for it.  With the Railways struggling to meet its expenditure and declining internal revenues, it is unclear how Railways will fund the remaining amount of Rs 95,000 crore for the Rail Sanraksha Kosh.

What happened to the dividend that was waived off last year?

Railways used to pay a return on the budgetary support it received from the government every year, known as dividend.  The rate of this dividend was about 5% in 2015-16.  From 2016-17, the requirement of paying dividend was waived off.  The last dividend amount paid was Rs 8,722 crore in 2015-16.

The Standing Committee on Railways (2017) had noted that part of the benefit from dividend is being utilised to meet the shortfall in the traffic earnings of Railways.  This defeats the purpose of removing the dividend liabilities since they are not being utilised in creating assets or increasing the net revenue of Railways.

Safety in Indian Railways

August 24th, 2017 No comments

Safety has been one of the biggest concerns in the Indian Railways system.  While the number of accidents have gone down over the last few years, the number still remains over 100 accidents a year.  In light of the recent train accidents in Uttar Pradesh (UP), we present some details around accidents and safety in the Indian Railways.

Causes of rail accidents

The number of rail accidents has declined from 325 in 2003-04 to 106 in 2015-16.[1]  The number of rail accidents as per the cause are shown in the graph below.  In 2015-16, majority of the accidents were caused due to derailments (60%), followed by accidents at level crossings (33%).1  In the last decade, accidents caused due to both these causes have reduced by about half.  According to news reports, the recent railway accidents in UP were caused due to derailment of coaches.

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Derailments

Between 2003-04 and 2015-16, derailments were the second highest reason for casualties.2  The Standing Committee on Railways, when examining the safety in railways, had noted that one of the reasons for derailments is defect in the track or coaches.  Of the total track length of 1,14,907 kms in the country, 4,500 kms should be renewed annually.2  However, in 2015-16, of the 5,000 km of track length due for renewal, only 2,700 km was targeted to be renewed.2  The Committee had recommended that Indian Railways should switch completely to the Linke Hoffman Busch (LHB) coaches as they do not pile upon each other during derailments and hence cause lesser casualties.2

Un-manned level crossings

Un-manned level crossings (UMLCs) continue to be the biggest cause of casualties in rail accidents.  Currently there are 14,440 UMLCs in the railway network.  In 2014-15, about 40% of the accidents occurred at UMLCs, and in 2015-16, about 28%.2  Between 2010 and 2013, the Ministry fell short of meeting their annual targets to eliminate UMLCs.  Further, the target of eliminating 1,352 UMLCs was reduced by about 50% to 730 in 2014-15, and 820 in 2015-16.2  Implementation of audio-visual warnings at level crossings has been recommended to warn road users about approaching trains.2  These may include Approaching Train Warning Systems, and Train Actuated Warning Systems.2  The Union Budget 2017-18 proposes to eliminate all unmanned level crossings on broad gauge lines by 2020.

Casualties and compensation

In the last few years, Railways has paid an average compensation of Rs 3.03 crore every year for accidents (see figure below).[2]

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Note: Compensation paid during a year relates to the cases settled and not to accidents/casualties during that year.

Consequential train accidents

Accidents in railways may or may not have a significant impact on the overall system.  Consequential train accidents are those which have serious repercussions in terms of loss of human life or injury, damage to railway property or interruption to rail traffic.  These include collisions, derailments, fire in trains, and similar accidents that have serious repercussions in terms of casualties and damage to property.  These exclude cases of trespassing at unmanned railway crossings.

As seen in the figure below, the share of failure of railways staff is the biggest cause of consequential rail accidents.  The number of rail accidents due to failure of reasons other than the railway staff (sabotage) has increased in the last few years.

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Accidents due to failure of railway staff

It has been noted that more than half of the accidents are due to lapses on the part of railway staff.2  Such lapses include carelessness in working, poor maintenance, adoption of short-cuts, and non-observance of laid down safety rules and procedures.  To address these issues, conducting a regular refresher course for each category of railway staff has been recommended.2

Accidents due to loco-pilots2,[3]

Accidents also occur due to signalling errors for which loco-pilots (train-operators) are responsible.  With rail traffic increasing, loco-pilots encounter a signal every few kilometres and have to constantly be on high alert.  Further, currently no technological support is available to the loco-pilots and they have to keep a vigilant watch on the signal and control the train accordingly.2  These Loco-pilots are over-worked as they have to be on duty beyond their stipulated working hours.  This work stress and fatigue puts the life of thousands of commuters at risk and affects the safety of train operations.2  It has been recommended that loco-pilots and other related running staff should be provided with sound working conditions, better medical facilities and other amenities to improve their performance.2

Actions taken by Railways with regard to the recent train accident

According to news reports, the recent accident of Utkal Express in UP resulted in 22 casualties and over 150 injuries.[4]  It has also been reported that following this incident, the Railways Ministry initiated action against certain officials (including a senior divisional engineer), and three senior officers (including a General Manager and a Railway Board Member).

The Committee on Restructuring of Railways had noted that currently each Railway zone (headed by a General Manager) is responsible for operation, management, and development of the railway system under its jurisdiction.[5]  However, the power to make financial decisions does not rest with the zones and hence they do not possess enough autonomy to generate their own revenue, or take independent decisions.5

While the zones prepare their annual budget, the Railway Board provides the annual financial budget outlay for each of them.  As a result of such budgetary control, the GM’s powers have been reduced leaving them with little independence in planning their operations.5

The Committee recommended that the General Managers must be fully empowered to take all necessary decisions independent of the Railway Board.5  Zonal Railways should also have full power for expenditure and re-appropriations and sanctions.  This will make each Zonal Railway accountable for its transport output, profitability and safety under its jurisdiction.

Under-investment in railways leading to accidents

In 2012, a Committee headed by Mr. Anil Kakodkar had estimated that the total financial cost of implementing safety measures over the five-year period (2012-17) was likely be around Rs one lakh crore.  In the Union Budget 2017-18, the creation of a Rashtriya Rail Sanraksha Kosh was proposed for passenger safety.  It will have a corpus of Rs one lakh crore, which will be built over a five-year period (Rs 20,000 crore per year).

The Standing Committee on Railways had noted that slow expansion of rail network has put undue burden on the existing infrastructure leading to severe congestion and safety compromises.2  Since independence, while the rail network has increased by 23%, passenger and freight traffic over this network has increased by 1,344% and 1,642% respectively.2  This suggests that railway lines are severely congested.  Further, under-investment in the sector has resulted in congested routes, inability to add new trains, reduction of train speeds, and more rail accidents.2  Therefore, avoiding such accidents in the future would also require significant investments towards capital and maintenance of rail infrastructure.2

Tags: railways, safety, accidents, finances, derailment, casualty, passengers, train

[1] Railways Year Book 2015-16, Ministry of Railways, http://www.indianrailways.gov.in/railwayboard/uploads/directorate/stat_econ/IRSP_2015-16/Year_Book_Eng/8.pdf.

[2] “12th Report: Safety and security in Railways”, Standing Committee on Railways, December 14, 2016, http://164.100.47.193/lsscommittee/Railways/16_Railways_12.pdf.

[3] Report of High Level Safety Review Committee, Ministry of Railways, February 17, 2012.

[4] “Utkal Express derailment: Four railway officials suspended as death toll rises to 22”, The Indian Express, August 20, 2017, http://indianexpress.com/article/india/utkal-express-train-derailment-four-railway-officers-suspended-suresh-prabhu-muzaffarnagar-22-dead-4805532/.

[5] Report of the Committee for Mobilization of Resources for Major Railway Projects and Restructuring of Railway Ministry and Railway Board, Ministry of Railways, June 2015, http://www.indianrailways.gov.in/railwayboard/uploads/directorate/HLSRC/FINAL_FILE_Final.pdf.