Rail Budget deviates from populism, dreams world-class projects
by Ashok B Sharma on 09 Jul 2014 2 Comments

The Modi Government has outlined the future development agenda for Indian Railways that includes launching of Bullet Trains (with speed above 200 kmp), increasing the speed of trains on certain tracks to 160 to 200 kmp with an ambitious plan to have a Diamond Quadrilateral Network, connecting major Metros and growth centers of the country and providing workstations in select trains, along with improvement in basic facilities like travel safety, hygienic food on board and food courts at major stations.


The feasibility study of the Bullet Train link between Ahmedabad and Mumbai alone needs an investment of over Rs 63,000 crore. Japan and France have agreed to participate in Bullet Train projects in India. Feasibility studies are being conducted for several identified links. The concept of Bullet Trains and high and semi-high speed trains were earlier conceived by UPA-II. The Modi Government has picked up this thread and included the Diamond Quadrilateral Network connecting Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata and Chennai in its ambitious project.


At present fast trains in India run at an average speed of 120 kmp. The Railways plan to increase the speed of trains to 160 to 200 kmp so that they become semi-high speed trains. The identified routes are Delhi-Agra, Delhi-Chandigarh, Delhi-Kanpur, Nagpur-Bilaspur, Mysore-Bengaluru-Chennai, Mumbai-Goa, Mumbai-Ahmedabad, Chennai-Hyderabad and Nagpur-Secunderabad. 


Deviating from past Railway Budgets, the present proposals are devoid of populism and more concerned about developing the ailing Indian Railway system to the level of a world class structure.


But a major constraint is resource mobilisation. Railway Minister SV Sadanand Gowda has spelt out a three-pronged strategy for resource mobilisation that includes deploying investible surplus of Railway public sector units for infrastructure development, inviting investments from domestic companies and encouraging foreign direct investments (FDIs) and public-private partnership.


To cut down delays in project execution, Railways will set up a Project Management Group at headquarter level. To expedite projects at ground level, a project Monitoring & Coordination Group consisting of officials of State Government, Railways and professionals will be set up to curb time and cost overruns. In the last 30 years as many as 676 projects were sanctioned at a cost of Rs.1,57,883 crore, but only 317 projects could be completed. 


The Railway Minister has promised to interact with Industry and take steps to attract investment under Public Private Partnership (PPP) through Built-Operate-Transfer (BOT) and Annuity route; 8 to 10 capacity augmentation projects on congested routes will be identified for this purpose. Zonal Railways will be suitably empowered to finalize and execute the projects. 


Railways have taken up port connectivity on priority through PPP mode of funding in tandem with Sagar Mala Project of Port Development. So far in-principle approval has been granted for building rail connectivity to the Ports of Jaigarh, Dighi, Rewas, Hazira, Tuna, Dholera and Astranga under Participative Model Policy of Indian Railways, amounting to a total of over Rs. 4,000 crore.  However, funding constraints have led to a huge backlog of sanctioned projects. While private investment and customer funding for some port connectivity projects and few other Power Sector Projects have started, much more needs to happen if infrastructure creation has to keep pace with the requirement. 

Tourism is another area where the Railways plans to focus, especially Eco-Tourism and Education Tourism in North Eastern States and Special Pilgrim Circuits like Devi Circuit, Jyotirling Circuit, Jain Circuit, Christian Circuit, Muslim / Sufi Circuit, Sikh Circuit, Buddhist Circuit, famous Hindu Circuit have been identified. Specially packaged trains for these circuits will be introduced.  

The Minister said a Tourist Train will run from Gadag to Pandarpur via Bagalkot, Bijapur and Solapur covering the pilgrim and tourist places of Karnataka and Maharashtra. Another train will start from Rameshwaram covering pilgrim and tourist places like Bengaluru, Chennai, Ayodhya, Varanasi and Haridwar. He also plans to run a special train featuring the life and work of Swami Vivekananda to inculcate good moral values and propagate the teachings of Swami Vivekananda. 


Railway Budget proposed to  introduce 58  new trans which includes five Jansadharan Trains, five  Premium Trains, six AC Express Trains, 27  Express Trains,  eight Passenger Trains, two  MEMU services and  five  DEMU services this year; the run of 11 existing trains would be extended.


The Budget has allocated an outlay of Rs.5,116 crore for projects in the North-East. This is 54% jump over allocations last year. There are 23 projects underway in the Northeast, of which 11 are National Projects.  The Dudhnoi-Mendipathar New Line; Lumding-Badarpur-Silchar Gauge Conversion; Harmuti-Murkongselek and Balipara- Bhalukpong sections will be commissioned soon.


For travel safety, the Budget proposes adopting safety standards matching international practices and setting up of Simulation Center to study causes of accidents. The proposes to encourage indigenization of imported components.


Time alone will tell how far the Modi Government will be able to mobilise resources to implement its ambitious composite plan.  

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