'Many trains wait outside the terminal stations at the home signal, but the delay is rarely recorded'
Chennai: Under pressure to show high punctuality of trains, railway zones across the country have been quietly fudging data by bypassing an automatic system which would record correct timings and manually be entering data to artificially increase punctuality.
This was made clear in a circular issued on December 21 by the Railway Board efficiency and research director to all zonal general managers.
Data logs of arrival and departure of trains is linked to a Control Office Application (COA) at terminals and interchanged through an electronic system brought in four to five years ago. The signal is monitored and train movement recorded.
However, at most locations, this system has been made inoperative and the arrival and departure time of trains is entered manually. Indian Railways official punctuality is around 75%, while that of Southern Railway is 84%.
For instance, a train may arrive at Chennai Central station 10-30 minutes or even an hour late, but the data entry operator may log it at the right time, showing an improved punctuality figure.
The December 21, 2017 circular directed zones to compulsorily make the system operative with immediate effect without fearing about the eventual drop in punctuality. The action taken report is to be sent to the board by December 28, 2017.
The correspondent sent this communication to a few Indian Railway Traffic Service (IRTS) officers who confirmed that the circular was a tacit admission of punctuality data being boosted by decreasing the actual delay of trains. "Many trains wait outside the terminal stations at the home signal, but the delay is rarely recorded," one of them said.
In the letter, Southern Railway general manager R. K. Kulshrestha has asked the Chief Operations Manager (COM) and Chief Signal and Telecommunication Engineer (CSTE) to discuss the implications of the direction on the zone's punctuality. He has also asked them to find the impact of wrong logging by other zonal railways on Southern Railway punctuality.
Many passengers traveling on trains have reported this anomaly to railways via Twitter after cross-checking the train's physical location with the arrival/departure data provided on National Train Enquiry System (NTES).
Punctuality is a major issue; officials at the division level are questioned by those at the headquarters, who are in turn questioned by the Board.
A few years ago, a top official at the Southern Railway headquarters cracked down on this misreporting, which brought punctuality to around 60%. Though hauled up by superiors for poor figures, he stuck to his guns.
An official from the signal department at Southern Railway said the circular was a step in the right direction. "Punctuality figures are also affected due to signal issues. More funds are needed to improve the signaling system. Once realistic figures are out, more funds for these improvements can be demanded," he said.