March 22, 2006


Maverick engineers Indian Railways turnaround (Raja M, 3/22/06, Asia Times)

Asia's largest railway network, India's national lifeline and one of its perennial financial headaches, has found an unlikely savior in Lalu Prasad Yadav, a maverick politician often dismissed as a rustic buffoon or a crook.

Yadav, fighting corruption cases ranging from a US$225 million fodder scam to a $789 million subsidized-food-grain scam, has as railway minister turned the world's second-largest rail network around. Indian Railways now has $2.48 billion in fund balances, from $78 million in 2001, a stunning reversal after being long seen as a terminal debt trap.

With new budgetary announcements of passenger-friendly and growth-aimed projects, the once-doddering behemoth is now dancing sprightly to attract big chunks of the $150 billion in foreign investment that financial experts expect India to attract in the next five years.

Railway container services will be privatized from April 1, a move welcomed by industrial associations. Licenses to operate container trains would have 20-year validity with the option of a 10-year extension.

Dubai Ports, fresh from its US ports controversy, was among 14 companies bidding for the railway container business, which is expected to attract more than $2.255 billion in the next decade. The railways have already collected $121.8 million as registration fees.

These are rosy times for Indian Railways, wide awake now to the enormous investment potential of a business carrying more than 16 million passengers every day and running more than 2,500 daily trains.

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 22, 2006 7:16 PM

Ask one of the passengers if he'd rather have a car to drive.

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at March 22, 2006 7:29 PM

Jim, especially if they had to share a car with Peachy and Danny.

Love that movie.

Posted by: jdkelly at March 22, 2006 7:38 PM

The conversation is the point.

Posted by: oj at March 22, 2006 7:53 PM

Amtrack could do perfectly fine if it divested the ridiculous money-losing, one-train a day rides through each state and concentrated first on the Northeast. There's no need to run one train through Wisconsin.

Posted by: John Thacker at March 22, 2006 8:09 PM

John, There's no need to run anything thru Wisconsin.

jd, FIB

Posted by: jdkelly at March 22, 2006 8:30 PM

I love passenger rail, so this is great. But our corn belt politicians can probably learn a lot from this guy too. He's got a billion in scams going. Our guys go down over penny ante stuff from ethanol lobbyists.

Posted by: JAB at March 22, 2006 8:38 PM

Our model is a country with no cars, and one train for every 400,000 people?

Posted by: pj at March 22, 2006 8:42 PM

It's an ideal, not a model.

Posted by: oj at March 22, 2006 8:55 PM

I love trains and train rides. They are neither an ideal nor a model. They are history. Spent much of my early life riding trains. Good memories, much wasted time. I have three automobiles at my command.


Posted by: jdkelly at March 22, 2006 9:16 PM

Command is inherently ugly.

Posted by: oj at March 22, 2006 9:19 PM

I thought the Indians always attacked the trains.

Posted by: ghostcat at March 22, 2006 10:28 PM

Well, something like 450 people are killed every year in accidents on the Indian railroads (I actually think the figure is much higher, but 10 minutes on Google and I couldn't find a better number). Granted, if they drove as much as we do, there would be many more deaths. However, if American passenger rails racked up 450 deaths a year, the lawsuits alone would put them out of business.

Posted by: jim hamlen at March 23, 2006 1:22 AM

And how India can learn from the USA: Due to the lack of infrastructure rail has a monopoly on transport, which will have to change in order for small businesses to flourish.

Posted by: Daran at March 23, 2006 3:26 AM


Hasn't put carmakers out of business.

Posted by: oj at March 23, 2006 6:57 AM

I've got OJ ideal right here. Case closed.

Posted by: Rick T. at March 23, 2006 9:16 AM

There are some folks who actually talk to each other during their trips.

Posted by: oj at March 23, 2006 9:21 AM

It's odd that oj recommends conversation as a pleasant side effect of train travel, while most airline passengers, myself included, go to great lengths to avoid talking to those seated next to them on an airplane.

Posted by: erp at March 23, 2006 11:04 AM

Oh, there's no doubt he talks on airplanes as well. When he gets to the part about how Eric and Julia are the same person people start looking around for an air marshall.

Posted by: joe shropshire at March 23, 2006 1:27 PM


Try it--I've never even seen someone so much as bat an eyelash when you point it out. We all know they're the same person.

Posted by: oj at March 23, 2006 1:44 PM

I'm sure he converts lots of airplane seat-mates to a higher gas tax, more commitment to ride the rails, and the belief that Ayatollah Khameini is a reasonable guy.

I would guess that I have good conversations about once every 5 or 6 flights. People are usually too wrapped around the axle by rushing to the airport, finding a place to park, going through security, finding a bite to eat, and/or burning through busy work to enjoy the flight. Too bad.

Of course, sitting next to the power lawyers on the 6:30 AM Monday flights from Atlanta to D.C. (back when I rode in first class), while they had their three Bloody Marys before we took off, kind of turned me off on conversation.

Posted by: jim hamlen at March 23, 2006 3:22 PM

When commuting from Grand Central to Westport CT. on the 5:45 or so they used to attach an empty mail car to the bar car and we sat on wooden crates, if we were lucky. The stewards from the packed bar car would come in and serve drinks; some of us read, some played liars poker or cards, some watched and most shot the s#!t during the ride. Nothing heavy, kind of chatter you'd hear in a good men's bar. Actually looked forward to it. I remember sometimes seeing the cars on the Conn. turnpike, as we passed them, while holding a drink in my hand and thinking ... this sure beats driving.

Posted by: Genecis at March 24, 2006 6:05 PM