Finally the Indian Railways is going to get a fresh lease of life out of the rut it has sunk into over years of inefficiency and mismanagement. After years of failed attempts at reviving the fortunes of the world’s fourth largest railway network, the government has invited private companies to invest in running 151 trains on 109 originating-destination routes, that entail an investment of about 4 bn US dollars. This will be the first major shift in railway operations since Independence.

Over the years, the railways has been proving a white elephant for the government because the cost of upkeep and maintenance of the gargantuan system was overriding the earnings from passenger and freight movement.

This small step at exploring and exploiting the potential of private firms to boost the finances and efficiency of the railways can be a game changer in the years to come and give us a roadmap of the trajectory that is most suitable for the sustained success of this experiment for a more permanent template of business operation in the sector.

Railways need to get out of the stranglehold of unions and highhandedness of labour leaders who have traditionally stalled any rejig plan as long as it didn’t cater to their interests. This pandering of decades has bled the railways, and today it has become difficult to even pay the salaries to the massive workforce. The smallest fare hikes are greeted with protests, despite the fact the India has one the lowest rail journey fares in the world.

Meanwhile, due to the lack of discipline and accountability in the work culture, the services of the country’s largest single public transport facility have deteriorated beyond redemption, which is why no one wants to pay more for what he is getting.

 Every quarter of railways, from the food quality to the standard of cleanliness, cries for attention and funding, both of which the railways is hard put to provide. This had made it pertinent for the government to think out of the box and improve the overall paraphernalia of the railways to save it from sinking, even if it means handing over the management in phases to private expertise.

Private players are bound to usher in a new work interface and consumer experience. This is an era of smart management which envisages best use of limited resources and customised service in line with the trend, taste and preferences of the customer – something the railway mandarins are almost oblivious of.

The government-run railways has a penchant to promote flab, which affects efficiency and leads to waste of resources.  Years of clumsy practices have led to this crisis today. This is starkly opposite to the business model that a successful venture of our times needs to adopt.

We cannot let a system run on an obsolete track just because a tradition exists. We need to review the working and future of our major institutions from time to time to align them with the current needs. This is the only way the relevance and efficacy of a system can be improved and maintained. No one individual or institution is impervious to scrutiny and change. If drastic measures are needed for the development of the nation, then we have to accept it and cooperate with it. The nation’s interests have to be kept above short-term individual gains, for it the nation prospers, we all prosper.

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