The abolition of the colonial tradition of presenting a separate railway budget was long overdue. Subsuming it in the Union budget, as will be done for the first time come Wednesday, is a welcome streamlining of the entire exercise. Importantly, by lowering its profile, it may also take some of the political pressure off it.
That is to be hoped for, at least. The railways require a number of capital-intensive reforms. For one, it must upgrade infrastructure and address personnel shortages in order to deal with a dismal safety record. Second, freight services—ideally, far more efficient than road transport—must be upgraded in order to capitalize on their natural advantages. And third, the quality of passenger travel must improve.
The appeal of populism meant that in the past, new trains were used to appeal to local constituencies while passenger fare rationalization was verboten. Here’s hoping Arun Jaitley keeps his promise to eschew populism for the railways.