If any public transporter in India ever deserved the status of a national carrier, it has got to be the railways. Since it first ran between Thane and Bori Bunder in April 1853, Indian Railways has grown to be one of the longest and busiest networks in the world. One of the deficiencies that the railways, rightfully referred to as the lifeline of the Indian economy, has been suffering for years is on the punctuality front.
The Supreme Court has recently rapped the railways for not being punctual and ordered it to pay compensation of Rs 30,000 to a passenger who had to miss a flight for a four-hour delay by a train. While delivering the order, the apex court has given the railways a primer on service and accountability. Time is money and passengers cannot be taken for granted. The court also said that citizens cannot be at the mercy of the authorities and administration and somebody has to accept the responsibility of delays.
Any public transporter is built around service, one of the cornerstones of which is punctuality. Indian Railways has several examples to take lessons from. The Japanese high-speed train set up in 1964 is so punctual that its average delay is counted in seconds, not even in minutes. Experts have famously attributed this achievement to hardware, software and humanware. However, the authorities need not go so far. Indian Railways can take a tour of the tube in different cities of the nation, where the trains run to time.
As the bench observed, these are qualities essential for survival in an era of increasing competition. And who knows it better than the railways that competition is breathing down its neck. While an expanding airlines footprint is set to emerge as a lure for travellers, road transport is eating into the market share of the freight business. As pace of life increases, the need for punctuality will be felt more and more acutely. In order to survive, the railways have to respond fast.
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