The Indian Railways time-table is designed to delay trains! Strange, but very true

24 NOV 2014

Indian Railways time-table

   The late running of trains is a serious issue. With 13 million passengers travelling daily, a delay of just 10 minutes means a daily loss of over two million man-hours. Can Indian Railways repair the damage it is doing to its customers – the travelers? Can it give back the 250 man-years lost on a daily basis back to the people of this Nation?

This is a national shame.

The Indian Railways has an officer called Director (Punctuality) who merely collects and disseminates information about delays. However, the analysis of the root causes behind delays, and their elimination, are beyond his purview, so it seems!

In the last article I had talked about how train delays are caused due to the practice of assigning fixed priorities to every train regardless of its current position along its route. I had also suggested a possible solution.

This article suggests a simple and practical way to reduce the overall delay.

Imagine you are travelling to Chennai from Ahmedabad by Navjeevan Express. While preparing the time-table, the premise used by Indian Railways is that the time taken by the train has two components – the running time and the time spent on waiting for signals, non-availability of platforms, scheduled halts at stations along the route, waiting for some VIP, etc. The running time is correctly taken as the total distance divided by the train’s planned speed; reduced to minutes per kilometre, it varies according to the type of train – Shatabdi, Rajdhani, Superfast, Express, etc.

However, the waiting time is also calculated on the basis of minutes per km! How can the waiting time be related to the distance? This serious conceptual blunder, as we will see shortly, adds hours of delays to the elapsed time between stations.

The assumption that waiting time increases with kms travelled is wrong, because waiting time is an isolated event, a one-time event. There is a chance that the train does not have to wait at all for any reason and moves ahead smoothly. There is also a chance that it sometimes has to wait for a long time. The delay can occur right at the beginning, before the train starts, or it can occur within a km of its start, or it may occur after 300 kms, or it may not occur at all. The waiting time has no connection whatsoever with the kms travelled.

Assume that the 120 kms distance between Ahmedabad and Vadodara takes 90 minutes and the waiting time – including the scheduled halts at the two junctions in between – is 30 minutes, calculated at 15 seconds per km. So the arrival time at Baroda is calculated as the departure time (say 6.15 a.m.) from Ahmedabad plus 90 minutes plus 30 minutes, that is, 8.15 a.m. If the halting time at Vadodara is 5 minutes, the departure time at Vadodara is published in the time-table as 8.20 am.

Now, assume that there is no waiting time for this train between Ahmedabad and Vadodara, except for the 5-minute scheduled halts at the two junctions in between. So, the train will arrive at Vadodara at 7.55 a.m. (6.15 a.m. plus 90 minutes running time plus 10 minutes for the two scheduled halts). Since the scheduled halt at Vadodara is 5 minutes, the train can leave Vadodara at 8 a.m. However, the time-table shows the departure time from Vadodara as 8.20 a.m. So, the train is detained for 25 minutes (8.20 minus 7.55) at or before Vadodara, that is, 20 minutes more than the scheduled halt time. The additional 20-minute ‘forceful detention’ of Indian Railways’ customers is totally unnecessary. Had the time-table been prepared showing the departure time from Vadodara as 8 a.m., allowing for a halt time of 5 minutes at Vadodara, this idle time of a trainload of people could have been totally avoided.

Assume now that the train encounters some delay, say of 20 minutes, before it reaches Vadodara. At Vadodara, it will be as though it is on time with the current system of preparing the time-table.

On 80 per cent of its journeys the Navjeevan Express reaches Vadodara at 7.55 a.m., and we have ‘saved’ 20 minutes. Why should we lose this 20-minute saving at Vadodara itself? Instead, why not keep it available for the train’s journey further ahead?

The system I propose is that the departure time from Vadodara should be shown as 8 a.m. in the time-table. So, in most cases, the train will be running as per schedule. On the few occasions that it is delayed, only the people boarding at Vadodara will be affected.

Why waste the 20 minutes gained up to Vadodara (as per the old time-table method) at Vadodara station itself? Why not save them for possible use during the remaining part of the journey? This saving can go on accumulating up to a point, say 60 minutes; this 60-minute cushion which can be used for unexpected and unavoidable delays further along the route.

The saving, storage and use of this stored time along the train’s route can release millions of man-hours daily for more fruitful activity. It can significantly reduce the total elapsed time from source to destination for all trains, which in turn will lead to better utilisation of the available trains. You will have more trains running, more punctually, and with no addition of rakes at all!

The implementation of this system to produce time-saving time-tables can be computerised and applied all across Indian Railways.

To speed things up on Indian Railways, first revamp the time-tables. Bullet trains, though welcome, cannot reduce or bring back millions of man-hours lost daily.

One affected Indian Bakra/bakri in the service of the people of India.

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