Aug 4, 2014

IRCTC ties up with Dadar catering college for better rail food

The 'achche din' promised by the NDA government has made a beginning at least in the much-needed railway pantry sector, with various departments of the national transporter trying to get their acts together. Close on the heels of the Central Railway authorities, calling a meeting with its pantry car operators to read them out a list of do's and don'ts, the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) has also got cracking on the job at hand.

In a first, it has tied up with the reputed Institute of Hotel Management and Catering Technology in Applied Nutrition, more famously called the Dadar Catering College, to enhance the skill-set of IRCTC catering staff deployed in premium trains like the Rajdhani and Duronto express.

The tie-up will see the institute creating a one-week skill management programme to give the staff an upgrade in food production and beverage service. The module will also include practical knowledge related to customer satisfaction, quality and hygiene.

These three facets of railway catering have been huge question marks for several years now and even the Railway Minister Sadananda Gowda in his budget speech alluded to the need to ensure that the food provided inside trains are priced as per the norms and have the quality intended by the railways.

Currently there are around 400 staff with IRCTC west zone who will be divided into batches of 20-25 to take part in the skill development programme, said IRCTc officials.

Earlier CR authorities led by general manager SK Sood had a meeting with pantry car operators to ensure that the food they serve inside trains is of the kind of quality the paying railway passenger expects. Apart from handheld terminals to give passengers print-outs of bills, emphasis was on the usage of mineral water for cooking inside the pantry till water-filter units are installed in all pantries. An elaborate mechanism to have the vegetables and the food grains used in pantries checked thoroughly was also discussed at the meet.


Metro rail station work at Chennai airport completed

The structural work on the metro rail station at the Chennai airport, the second in the country after New Delhi to have such connectivity, has been completed, and now the interior work is on, according to officials of the Chennai Metro Rail Limited (CMRL).

“We are now focussing on the installation of false ceiling and plastering, electrical and plumbing work. The sheeting work for the roof is in progress. The installation of lifts and escalators will begin soon,” said an official of the CMRL.

In the Chennai Metro Rail, built at a cost of Rs. 14,600 crore, the airport is the last station of corridor-II, which links the 23-km stretch from Washermanpet to the airport. Corridor-I is a 22-km stretch between the Chennai Central and St. Thomas Mount.

The station at the airport comprises a five-level terminal sprawling over 17,300 sq. m, and is built in such a way that it provides a link for commuters to new terminals of the airport. Similar to the one in New Delhi, there will be a check-in facility at the Chennai Central metro rail station for passengers to complete the procedures and board a train to the airport.

Mizoram's rail connectivity cut-off temporarily

SILCHAR: Mizoram, the eastern-most state of the country has been virtually cut-off from other states in terms of railway connectivity for over a week now following a rail blockade by a couple of NGOs both in Mizoram and certain areas of Assam.

Mizoram is connected to Assam via the 103-km Silchar- Bhairabi MG railway route under the Northeast Frontier Railway (NFR).

NFR sources on Sunday said owing to the agitations, the 52567 Silchar-Bhairabi Passenger train now plies between Silchar and Lala Bazar stations in Assam and the goods train that used to run between Silchar and Bhairabi (Mizoram) thrice in a week is now plying between Silchar and Hailakandi stations.

Young Mizo Association (YMA), a Mizoram-based NGO has been agitating in Bhairabi station for two consecutive days early this week seeking rescheduling of timing of the lone passenger train connecting Mizoram with rest of the country and also a little change in the route. Again, the Railway Passengers Rights Preservation Committee (RPRPC), an Assam-based NGO, started another protest by stopping the train at Lala Bazar station in Hailakandi district of Assam only to prevent it from reaching Mizoram. RPRPC wants that the present train schedule and the route remain unchanged for the convenience of the passengers.

Sources said while YMA has withdrawn its agitation, the Hailakandi-based NGO continues to stop the trains at Lala Bazar station since last Thursday. This has compelled the NFR authorities to ply the train between Silchar and Lala Bazar until situation turns normal.

RPRPC functionary Govinda Lal Chatterjee said until YMA withdraws its demand the blockade will continue. Chatterjee also alleged that the Assamese traders, who visit Mizoram regularly, are facing harassment. The disruption of train services on the route has left the passengers and the traders' community in trouble, the source added.
Source..times of india

Labour's proposed rail shakeup leaves nationalisation firmly off the agenda

Despite being a great success, state-run East Coast is heading back into private hands. Photograph: Christopher Thomond

The woman spearheading Labour's emerging vision to put the people back in charge of the railways recently had cause to take direct action of her own. On an overcrowded and late CrossCountry train limping its way from Plymouth to Newcastle, with its air conditioning failing and litter piling up, shadow transport secretary Mary Creagh led a mini-invasion of a first-class carriage by disgruntled passengers. Not in a George Osborne way, she stresses. Unlike the chancellor, who attempted to secure an upgrade on a Virgin train without paying, she urged the conductor to declassify the first-class carriage in order to get seats for all.

The bigger prize for Labour will be to get voters to agree to break down the boardroom doors of the private train operators. Creagh says: "We've got a very ambitious policy. I think this is going to be the biggest shakeup of the railways since privatisation in 1993."

After Ed Miliband's pledges to limit energy prices, some Labour voters expect a similarly bold approach to rail. Critics of the current system point out that private shareholders reap dividends off the back of huge public subsidy, with fares continually rising while the taxpayer contributes a grant roughly double the amount pumped in during British Rail's day.

Its defenders say our trains are the envy of Europe, with booming passenger numbers, a vastly improved safety record and investment coming with only slim average profit margins – around 3% on average – for train operators.

Creagh says: "Are we getting value for money for the taxpayer? I don't think so. Train companies have made a lot of money in the past without improving the passenger experience." She is coy about naming the culprits, however. "I'm in the business of working with companies and Network Rail to make things better."

The exact form and level of Labour's ambition remains to be seen, but the policy will probably include fare caps, franchise overhauls and a green light for public sector companies that want to bid to run rail lines.

The fares cap last week pledged by Miliband would only abolish the "flex" – allowing operators to increase prices on certain routes while keeping within an overall average – which still means fares rising 1% above inflation unless Labour gets bolder when the level of 2015's fare rises are announced this month.

So will it be similarly bold about who runs the trains and where the profits go? East Coast has been a success under the management of the state-owned Directly Operated Railways, which inherited the franchise after two private operators in succession – GNER and National Express – handed back the keys. It has fuelled campaigns to take other lines back into the public sector as franchises come up for renewal, which would be tantamount to renationalisation without much political fuss. Little wonder the coalition has hastened to return the London-to-Edinburgh line to private hands, with the franchise to be awarded this autumn, before the election.

Labour says public-sector companies – possibly mutuals or co-operatives – will be allowed to bid in future on a level playing field with private bidders. In parts of the rail industry, that idea has caused head-scratching and sparked phone calls to lawyers. One director of a privately owned rail operator said: "Bidding is an unbelievably complicated and expensive process. How will the public take the idea of spending millions on bids they might lose?" Another well-placed source said: "It's going to be incredibly difficult to pull off making this run fairly where you've got someone the taxpayer is backing against the private sector."

Martin Griffiths, chief executive of Stagecoach – co-owner of Richard Branson's Virgin Rail Group – and chairman of industry body the Rail Delivery Group agrees. "As yet, there is no detail on how the idea of a public-sector bidder would compete on a level playing field with private-sector bidders when government is both referee and player in the competition for franchises."

Creagh concurs that there needs to be a separate legal entity. But she says: "There's got to be a better way. Is this the way to run the railway? We've been polishing it and polishing it and every time something goes wrong."

The bidding process would have to change under the promised full review of the franchising system. Creagh hints that, under Labour, rail operators could expect an end to risk-and-reward deals in favour of the kind of management contracts drawn up to keep trains running when the government's franchising timetable disintegrated after the west coast fiasco in 2012.

That farce saw Virgin Rail stripped of the franchise, which was handed to FirstGroup, only for Virgin to be given it back when flaws were discovered in the bidding process. "The traditional model is the bidder taking revenue and cost risk, but east coast showed us what happens when the revenue collapses. You either break the company, in the case of GNER, or you risk destroying the company and they walk away," she says, referring to National Express breaking its £1.4bn contract to run the line in 2009.

Privatisation "delivered the disaster of Railtrack" she says, while the fallout from the west coast debacle has cost the taxpayer more than £200m. High on Labour's list too is another vagary of the current system, where trains are leased from companies owned by banks. "We want to tackle the rolling-stock market, where some companies have been making 30% profit margins on trains that were paid for by the taxpayer 20 years ago."

Senior industry figures are split over whether to fight what may be the next government's plan. Some argue privately that Labour's attempts to square its policy with the more far-reaching desire for renationalisation harboured by many, including its trade-union backers, has rhetorical bite but will founder on the detail.

On the left, the expectations are also muted. Mick Whelan, general secretary of Aslef, says: "We would prefer far-reaching reform. They will never go far enough for us, obviously: our goal would be public services run by the government for the good of the public. There seems to be an inherent fear of alienating the business community. We are interested in legislation that would bring wheels and steel back together."

If that means a government body running track and trains, says Creagh, it would be "a step too far for me". She says: "I want to see evolution, managed change. We had revolution 20 years ago, it was a disaster. Another one is not what railways need."

East Coast Virgin Rail, FirstGroup and a joint venture of two subsidiaries of France's SNCF are vying to take over the prestigious state-run London-to-Scotland line (expected late 2014).

Northern Current partners Serco and Abellio (a Dutch state railways subsidiary), will not launch a joint bid for the next contract to run trains in Liverpool, Manchester and Yorkshire (2016).

Great Western FirstGroup has had its rights to the line extended - despite dodging £800m in premium payments to the government. The Department for Transport is mulling a further four-year extension, which would push back the new contract to 2020, because of significant engineering work on the London-Swansea and London-Cornwall line (2016/2020).

Greater Anglia Dutch company Abellio has won another extension to its short contract, which means further delays in sorting out the long-term future of one of Britain's busiest commuter routes (2016).

West Coast This line is at the root of the long delays in renewing rail franchises. Legal shenanigans over the last contract competition saw FirstGroup win the franchise, then lose it. Now Virgin has been quietly granted rights for three more years. The line has been hugely profitable: the latest extension will see Sir Richard Branson's dividends pass £300m (2017).

London Midland Govia, a partnership between Britain's Go-Ahead and SNCF's Keolis - has gained an extension (2017).

Southeastern Govia also operates this big commuter franchise, which has also been extended (2018).
Source..the guardian





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