AN INTRODUCTION TO RAIL TRANSPORT
Transport is an important infrastructure in maintaining and developing any economic activity. Rail transport occupies a very important place in surface transport, particularly in a country like India, which is not endowed with much of waterways and has a very large size. Rail transport assumes a greater importance in our country, particularly in view of limited resources of natural oil and abundant availability of coal, an energy source easily usable for rail transport, whether directly or indirectly, through electric energy indigenous or imported. Railways have a positive edge over road, being many times more energy efficient.
Notwithstanding disadvantages like being track bound, highly capacity intensive, Railways have played a very important role in the economic development of the country. Though road transport has progressed much faster during the post-independence era, Indian Railways still continue to play a major role in the transport effort required by the nation.
Functions of Operating Department
Railway operation encompasses all the activities connected with the running of a railway. However, Operating department in particular has its role in producing a service called Transportation. In this activity, Operating department harnesses the efforts of all the departments of the Railways and optimizes usage of operational
assets viz. track, signals fixed installations and rolling stock. Broadly, the functions can
be categorized as under:
Planning of Transport Service: This involves both long term as well as short term planning. A lot of spadework has to be done to run trains on day-to-day basis. Passenger trains are planned to be run and detailed timetable issued once every year. Arrangements of rolling stock and locomotives are made to meet the expected demand. Similarly, facilities of wagons have to be made available for the goods traffic. Demands for the wagons for different commodities vary during different seasons of the year. Railways have to plan to meet these fluctuations in demand. Planning would involve not only the individual trains but a lot of other activities
necessitating creation of capacity to form and start trains at originating stations, run through a section and receive at the destination station. Though organization of the Railways gets involved in this planning process, the basic framework is provided by the Operation department to which the plans of other departments responsible for provision and maintenance of operational assets, fit in.
Running of trains and continuous watch: Running of trains would involve ordering of trains, booking of crew, watching that the conditions are safe for it to run and arranging various requirements on the run. Efficiency of operation of trains depends on the quality of planning whether short term or long term. Transportation staff, both at originating and terminating as well as roadside stations, are busy round the clock
to ensure timely and safe running of trains. Passenger trains run on a predetermined schedule, fluctuations in the traffic do not generally influence their running. On the other hand, except for a few scheduled goods trains, goods trains run as and when there is adequate load. A goods train generally leaves when there are a definite
number of wagons to be cleared for a particular destination/yard. Exceptions in both cases exist, though rare.
Safety: Safety is the prime attribute of any transport system. No user would like to use a transport system, which does not provide a reasonable amount of safety to the limb, life and property of the user. Safety is, therefore, an integral part of operations and it is the responsibility of Operating department as well to ensure that trains are operated in a safe manner. This requires rigid observance of rules and procedures of
safe train operation.
Economy and efficiency: While maintenance departments are responsible for making the assets available to the Operating department in proper fettle, it is the responsibility of the latter to make most optimum utilization thereof. Operating department is, therefore, responsible for the productivity of the system. This is measured in terms of operating indices like tonne kilometers and passenger kilometers.
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