Insight: Life and death on India's slow train to prosperity

Thu Mar 22, 2012 4:02pm EDT
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By Matthias Williams

KANPUR, India (Reuters) - As the Kalka Mail train pulls into Delhi railway station at dawn, it is every man, woman and child for themselves.

Before the train has stopped, crowds elbow and jostle into packed compartments destined for Kolkata, 1,500 km (930 miles) and 25 hours away on one of the largest, most decrepit and dangerous rail networks in the world.

Bare-footed women with children shout to be let into carriages while an old woman in an orange saree shuffles along the platform, bent over a walking frame. Above the melee, suitcases glide toward the train, borne aloft on the heads of porters.

Some passengers pause to brush their teeth on the platform, which stinks of excrement. Near a "No Spitting" sign, an infant squats in the open, defecating as her mother watches over her.

Another day on Indian Railways has begun - another day on which the nation's aspirations to become a wealthy economy risk being derailed by a neglected asset whose potential remains to be unlocked by bold political leadership and fresh capital.

Indeed, if that potential was unleashed, estimates suggest it could add as much as 2 percent to India's flagging economic growth.


Graphic on India rail safety:   Continued...

A passenger train moves through heavy fog in the northern Indian city of Chandigarh in this January 9, 2012 file photograph. REUTERS/Ajay Verma