Railway Minister Piyush Goyal today said he has asked officials not to entertain any requests -- not even from him -- for letting trains pass when maintenance work is being carried out because track renewal is essential for safety.
Track renewal -- replacing old tracks with new wherever necessary -- was essential for the safety of the railways, Goyal told reporters here, stressing that all new tracks that had been procured so far were being used for track renewal.
"I have told my officials that even if I call them to pass a train, it should not be allowed to pass if there is a traffic block because of the renewal of tracks," he said.
Goyal said his ministry's track renewal target for 2017-2018 was 4000-4500 kilometres.
The Puri-Haridwar Utkal Express, which derailed in Khatauli in Uttar Pradesh on August 19, was running on tracks which were under maintenance. An enquiry later found that the work was being done without authorisation.
Railway officials said Goyal's push for track renewal had seen an increase in the number of blocks -- when train movement is stopped for maintenance work -- in various zones.
While earlier, on an average, a rail zone allocated only 50 per cent of the total maintenance blocks demanded by track engineers on a route, in the last few months, almost 65 per cent of the demands for maintenance blocks had been granted.
"Track renewal is our topmost priority and there is no restriction on the budget. I hope 2017-2018 will be the first time in rail history that the ministry will meet its renewal targets," Goyal said.
In its timetable released on November 1, the railways gave time slots for track maintenance and signalling.
The new timetable has cut out unnecessary delays on routes, reducing the travel time of over 500 trains by 30-60 minutes, leaving enough time for the maintenance blocks.