Gatimaan Express, the only train in India capable of touching 160 km per hour, failed the punctuality test three out of every ten times it travelled between Delhi and Agra in its first year of operations.
Flagged off by railway minister Suresh Prabhu on April 5, 2016, Gatimaan is supposed to cover a distance of 188 km between Delhi’s Nizamuddin Railway Station and Agra Cantonment in 1.40 hours with no halts. There is no comparison between Gatimaan and the country’s other high-speed trains, such as the Rajdhani and Shatabdi, because it is a non-stop service that covers a relatively short distance at a much higher speed.
However, an examination of the arrival-departure data for journeys made between April 5, 2016 and April 5, 2017 shows that while the train departed from both ends at the right time on many occasions, it lost momentum en route, mostly because of foggy conditions in the winter and allegedly faulty safety equipment.
The data obtained from the northern and north-central railway zones through an application filed under the Right to Information Act. As Gatimaan operates six days a week, except Friday, the train ran for 314 days in its first year of operation. It reached Agra Cantonment late on 66 days (20%) while plying from Delhi to Uttar Pradesh, whereas the instances of delay almost doubled to 127 days (40%) while returning to Nizamuddin.
Railway sources said most of the delays occurred due to poor maintenance of train protection warning devices (TPWDs), besides foggy conditions during winter.
The TPWD, a safety device fitted on various points of the railway track, detects red signals ahead and conveys the information to engines whenever they run over it. It automatically reduces the train’s speed or applies the emergency brakes, depending on the situation. “However, due to lack of maintenance, TPWDs often read the signals incorrectly and interfere with the train speed – causing delays,” a railway official said on the condition of anonymity.
The situation became worse in January, when the train arrived late at Agra Cantonment on 25 of the total 31 days with a maximum delay of 137 minutes. “As it departs for Agra at 8.50 in the morning, fog is the main reason for delays during the winter,” said Sanchit Tyagi, railway spokesperson of Agra division.
He, however, denied reports of TPWD glitches causing trains to run slow. “Rather, there have instances of delay due to signal failure and cattle being run over. There are gaps in the protection wall along the track,” said Tyagi.
Nizamuddin Railway Station
Sources at the Nizamuddin Railway Station dubbed delay in platform allocation and speed restrictions as the likely reasons for the train failing to make good time during its return journey. Some even complained that Gatimaan – despite being India’s fastest train – lacks some basic features.
“The engine’s wiper often fails to work, and there is no spray system to clean the front screen of insects during the rainy season. This seriously hampers visibility,” a railway official said.
He also complained about the lack of a sun visor to protect the engine driver’s eyes from direct sunlight during the train’s return journey from Agra Cantonment to Nizamuddin in the evening.
Another Railway source said the 99% punctuality score attributed to departures from the two stations does not reflect the whole truth. So we often ignore filing 10 to 15 minutes of delay in departure from Nizamuddin station in our records,” he added.
Officials at Agra Cantonment also admitted to minor fudging of records to ensure that the train’s departure timings seem adhered to.
Tyagi, however, strongly denied these claims. “The controller monitors the train’s departure timings electronically, so something like this just isn’t possible,” he said.
Nevertheless, it must also be noted that Gatimaan reached Agra Cantonment before time on 111 out of 314 days (35% cases) – an achievement that few trains can boast of. On its return journey, the train reached Nizamuddin early on 62 occasions (20% cases).