Saturday, March 29, 2008

The romance of railways

I find this public domain picture of manpowered railway inspection trolley from Wikimedia Commons fascinating. It was taken in the North West Frontier Province circa 1903. Even today, a century later, you can see the same scene except for the Western clothes, all over India. What intrigued me was why this simple vehicle has not been mechanized even in the 21st century.

Last night at a dinner party I met an old friend who retired as General Manager of Southern Railway. He gave me the answer. They do have motorized inspection trolleys. But those are classified as ‘trains’. To use them on the tracks other scheduled trains have to be stopped and that is a complicated business. Push trolleys do not have this problem. They are light and can be taken off the tracks to allow trains to pass.

The former GM did not say this, but I think that another reason could be to retain the labor strength. The worker’s unions are not likely to agree to any manpower reduction. Lalu’s management miracle is filling the railway coffers so why cut corners?

There is a romance about trains, like ships, which is something that the airplanes lack, for whatever reason. This is particularly so in the case of the Indian Railways. So much has been written about this massive organization, its historic trains and the committed people who man them.

Given below are two links related to the subject. You are likely to find the articles interesting.


Also see: Travel: A round trip by train


Ezee123 said...

I am here after a long long time.
Interesting post on those strip down fast trolleys.

I do not think that the labour force issue is the reason why it is still in vogue.

Secondly, to ascribe Lallu Yadav for the Railways performance would be to belittle the wonderful organisation that Indian Railways is.I would say inspite of Lallu Yadava, they are doing this terrific job. ;-))

Guru said...

I have to agree with you about the labour force preservation. I have heard similar comments from my uncle who was an engineer in-charge of track inspection and maintenance. He used to say that the labour force had a strong backing from unions dominated by communists and any mechanisation was perceived as an attack on the working class. Indian railways and Soviet Union's Red army were frequently cited as examples for overmanning and low productivity. Well, the push inspection trolleys happily coexist with computerised signalling!

The last time I visited Mysore as a pedestrian in the main road near our house I had to dodge a mercedes which I thought was coming straight towards me even though I was walking on the tiny footpath, only to be trampled on by a large cow materialising from nowhere!! Machine and animals coexist happily on main roads!

During my last visit I noticed that the wooden stamps and the runny ink the immigration personnel use (the kind used by the registrar's clerk in my mother's village over half-a-century ago to stamp the lease and sales deeds) to stamp passports at the Bombay airport seemed not changed, and neither the force used on poor passport pages by the person with the stamp. Years ago when I was using my Indian passport whose pages resembled blotting paper in quality, the immigration officer at the emabarkation end of the airport one time asked me why my passport pages were so messy with ink, to which my reply him was to have a talk with his colleagues at the other end of the airport or the passport office or both! I hope there has been achange for better here!

Nebu said...

Regarding Lallu’s magic of turning the Indian railways around, I heard that he is completely at a loss regarding the administration of the department that he does not interfere with the railway board and the decisions of the secretaries, so long as all the credit goes to him.
It is said by informed sources that even the IIM lecture was stage managed by those efficient people behind the scene.
However when the prices of all things big and small are going up it’s only that of the train ticket that is coming down!

padmaja said...

Sigh there is really something about travelling in a train

padmaja said...

hello sir how r u? I am on line after a long time. I had been in touch with Annie, also sent her the Ist 2 chapters but so far no response.Hope everything is fine . God bless

Abraham Tharakan said...

Thank you ezee123, guru,nebu and padmaja for your comments.

Maddy said...

that is a good example for the oft repeated american logic - why fix something that aint broke...

Abraham Tharakan said...

Thanks maddy.

Abraham Tharakan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.