Heavy traffic, poor infra haunting Indo-Gangetic plain

Packing of more trains in the Indo-Gangetic plain without improving the track capacity and signalling has not only added to delays but also turned the stretch vulnerable and accident-prone, suggests a new study.

Analysing publicly available Indian Railways data, computer scientists at the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur reported skewed growth in railway traffic as most of the high-traffic routes are concentrated in a few geographical regions, the most prominent of which is the Indo-Gangetic plain.

Woefully inadequate infrastructure contributed to delays and accidents, scientists said based on their computer modelling. In several regions traffic exceed the safe limits.

But every railway minister coming from Bihar and West Bengal in the last two decades, the number of trains in the Indo-Gangetic plains is steadily on the rise. As all trains run in full capacity, their introduction is also politically justified.

The tradition continued in P K Bansal's railway budget too where more than 90 express and passenger trains were introduced, many of which use the Indo-Gangetic corridor.

Compared to southern India which did not witness any major accident due to derailment in the recent past, trunk-segments in the Indo-Gangetic plain and the western zone are under immense strain due to high amounts of traffic. “The cost-benefit ratio of having new train versus safety is reaching a tipping point,” said Niloy Ganguly, an IIT scientist.

The scientists uncovered flaws in the scheduling of trains too. For instance, time-interval between trains on the same route is low on key routes in northern India during the early hours of the day, when the visibility is low due to fog in the winter, resulting in collisions.

Simulation traffic flow at the IIT demonstrates if all trains were to travel according to their schedule, the existing infrastructure is insufficient to handle the traffic-flow in some of the high-traffic routes. This explains frequent delays in those routes.

The worst affected routes in the Indo-Gangetic plains are Delhi-Tundla-Kanpur, Delhi-Mathura-Agra, Dhanbad-Asansol-Kolkata, Kanpur-Allahabad, Mughalsarai-Ara-Patna, Sonpur-Barauni-Katihar and Allahabad-Mughalsarai.

There is substantial delay in the Indo-Gangetic plain offseting the safety factor. “Among two segments of comparable traffic Delhi-Tundla-Kanpur (104 trains) and Ahmdabad-Vadodara-Surat (86 trains), Delhi-kanpur has 10 times more delay than Ahmedabad-Surat which has better infrastructure,” Ganguly told Deccan Herald.

The researchers, which was independently studying the railway traffic using computer simulations for the last five years, claimed traffic alone could not explain delay patterns.

“ There are regions having high traffic but relatively low delays and vice versa,”said Saptarshi Ghosh, another computer scientist at the IIT. Other contributing factors may be non-availability of parallel tracks, poor quality signalling and freight traffic.

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