Calcutta, Oct. 24: More than half of Metro Railway’s 144 coaches have either outlived their running time or are nearing the end and should have been “condemned” by now, sources in the utility told The Telegraph today.
Metro Railway had to seek special permission from the railway ministry in early 2010, when 24 coaches went past their shelf life and another 60 were on the threshold, to continue to run them.
Experts said a Metro coach should be junked when it is past 25. Around 80 of the 144 coaches have been in service since the first train rolled out of Dum Dum in 1984.
The railways’ Research Designs and Standards Organisation, Lucknow, had granted Metro the permission to run 24 unfit coaches which were already old enough to be “condemned” on the condition that they would be overhauled along with the 60-odd that were nearing the end of their life span.
However, engineers in Metro said only “minor repairs” were conducted on the old coaches. “A thorough overhaul was not possible because of the scarcity of some crucial spares,” a source said.
“We had to persist with coaches that are over 25 years old and are past their sell-by dates as their alternatives were not immediately available,” a railway ministry official told The Telegraph from Delhi.
A senior Metro Railway official defended the use of old coaches, drawing an analogy that is certain to touch a raw nerve among passengers. “Even furniture are repaired and used when there is a delay in the arrival of new ones. We ordered the new coaches on time but are yet to receive enough to condemn the old ones,” the official said.
The maintenance suffered further with the 9km extension of the service in two phases — up to Garia Bazar on August 22, 2009, and up to New Garia on October 7, 2010.
“The railway ministry has the discretion to extend the running life of a coach depending on its condition. But more the age, more the maintenance, otherwise the coach will develop snags frequently and cause greater risk to safety,” said S.R. Thakur, a former additional member of the Railway Board.
Earlier, a train had to cover around 16.45km between Dum Dum and Tollygunge. After the extensions, they run 25.13km till New Garia.
“Earlier a coach had to run 6,000km a month but after the extension, it has to cover 10,000km a month,” said a Metro source.
Even after getting the go-ahead to run the “condemned” coaches, the mandatory inspection and maintenance are difficult to carry out because of the shortage of rakes.
Ideally, an eight-coach rake should undergo inspection and the necessary maintenance every month. Such an exercise takes 24 hours but the Metro authorities cannot afford the luxury to spare a train for an entire day.
“The schedule of maintenance is drawn at the beginning of the month. But the rakes are not available when they are due for servicing,” said a source.
Emergency maintenance, too, has been taking a knock since the extension. “Halfway through the maintenance job, requests for the rake come as another one develops a bigger problem. So the rake has to be released for commercial run,” a senior official said.
Metro, which should ideally have 25 rakes to keep up with its schedule, has only 18, besides the two AC ones.
Short-sighted decisions also took a toll. When the Railway Board first placed the orders for 13 new rakes in 2007, they sought prototypes of the existing coaches. The decision was changed the following year, when the board decided to procure AC coaches, delaying the process by at least a year as the original design had to be modified. A standard coach cannot be fitted with a cooling system as that leaves little headroom for passengers while standing.
Metro coaches are unique in many ways. Although the trains run on broad-gauge tracks, the rakes are meter gauge. “So the air-conditioning system we manufacture for standard train coaches are not fit for the Metro,” said an official of the Integral Coach Factory at Perambur, near Chennai, the railway unit that got the order for the new Metro rakes.
Metro officials have said that 11 of the 18 rakes have to be junked once the 13 new air-conditioned rakes arrive.
That could take a while though. Originally scheduled to roll in by December 2010, the deadline has already been pushed to March 2011 after the two that have already arrived threw up a series of questions about their running ability. Since their flag-off by Mamata Banerjee on Mahalaya amid fanfare, they run only a trip a day.
I wish Kolkata Metro would take some cues from DMRC on how to
- Finish projects on time with
- Minimum disruption to traffic, commerce and other activities
- Maintain rolling stock
- Manage order books
- How to ensure that racks and rolling stock arrive on time
It's indeed a shame that while, Delhi Metro in only 14 years has managed to spread its network to over 150km in and around Delhi, Kolakata Metro has barely managed 25km in 32 years since the construction started- an abysmally shocking track record of laying down less than 800 metres of line in a year. And to think of it, Kolkata Metro railway men were some of the first to decry DMRC and Delhi and state governments for not inviting them to take up the project in spite of their "experience".
I wonder if the Netaji Subhas Chandra airport at Dum Dum will ever see any upgrades since the god forsaken Airports authority of India is in charge..
Well said. On the other hand, this policy of subsidising each and everything in Kolkata has to stop. I think Kolkata's biggest boon and bane has been it's cheap cost of living. Although it has keep life simple and easygoing, it has also attracted lots of low-income-group people from neighbouring areas, including Bangladesh, which is putting undue pressure on the economy of the city. If people really want the Metro, they should be willing and able to pay for the ride and the fare should be increased for a single ride, if not for monthly passes. It should also be at least semi-privatised. Yes, they have to follow the DMRC model and I am sure they can do better. Kolkata Metro has been running on losses for quite a while and I think it is high time this ended.
Well said mate..your points about Kolkata are valid and true of other major cities in India- especially Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Bangalore, Pune and Hyderabad. Mumbai and Delhi have to face the biggest brunt of a burgeoning population.
Just a few questions regarding Kolkata Metro
1. Why do they source their rolling stock and racks from Indian Railways when DMRC gets them from BEML (and apparently other metros plan to do so as well) or some like Mumbai metro get them from abroad. It'll be easier for them to source it from China- no political backlash to be expected?
2. What are the modes of transport linking the Metro stations?