All Aboard

Before we start this analysis of the Indian Railways (IR) it is important to provide some context.

IR is one of the world’s largest railway networks comprising 115,000 km of track over a route of 67,312 km and 7,112 stations. In 2014-15, IR carried 8.397 billion passengers annually or more than 23 million passengers a day and 1058.81 million tons of freight in the year.

Did we also mention that IR employs approximately 1.5 million people.

It is in that magnitude that is truly hard to grasp that we recently read a report from the Comptroller and Auditor General of India.

The audit looks at the achievement of the IR goal at zero tolerance to accidents through implementation of Corporate Safety Plan (CSP) (2003-13) and Indian Railways Vision 2020.

Unfortunately – for these failings have resulted in death and misery not just monies lost:

The CSP envisaged bringing down the number of accidents by 80 per centfrom 2001-02 by 2013, but number of accidents went up by 160 per cent during the above period. The loss of human lives in Fire accidents in passenger coaches steeply increased from 3 in 2001-02 to 9 in 2011-12, 32 in 2012-13 and 35 in 2013-14.

The agency that was tasked with implementing the strategy had core failings:

The Research Designs and Standards Organisation (RDSO), the agency responsible for prescribing specifications for fire retardant materials did not have their own laboratory facilities and the proposal (2006) to create state of the art laboratory is still in nascent stage.

But perhaps most telling was the observation:

Audit noticed that (the Railway Board) did not enforce its instructions.

This is one of those reports that could be easily dismissed as having little relevance to organizations that don’t have 1.5m employees.

To do so would be a disservice – this report is a good analysis of what happens when there is over-promising and under-delivering.

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