New Delhi: In a desperate bid to revive its ambitious freight corridor project, which, though conceived two years ago, is yet to take off, the railway ministry effected a climbdown on Monday and accepted the terms proposed by Japan, which it has lined up as a financier.
The turnaround comes after the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs, or CCEA, declined three times to give a final clearance for the dedicated freight corridor, or DFC, after it found that the ministry had not put down a credible funding plan for the project, estimated to cost Rs28,000 crore.
Following its compromise with Japan International Cooperation Agency (Jica), the railways will have to approach CCEA for a final go-ahead.
Briefing reporters here on Monday, Railway Board chairman K.C. Jena said that he had written to JICA, the development arm of the Japanese government, stating that it was ready to electrify the western arm of the proposed route.
The railways had earlier opposed this, saying that if the route was electrified, it would not be able to move “double-stack” container trains to maximize traffic movement.
The height of the electric lines was the cause for concern as railway experts feared it would not be possible to transport stacked-up containers on an electrified line.
Jica, however, argued that this was not true. Now the railways has reversed its stand and is proposing a pilot project in Orissa.
“We will be conducting a trial run for running double-stack container train on an electrified route between Jakhapura and Daitari in Orissa,” said Jena.
DFC envisages the construction of around 2,700km of railway line between New Delhi and Mumbai on the west as well as an eastern corridor, which will begin at Ludhiana in Punjab and terminate at Sonenagar in Bihar, with a proposed extension to Kolkata.
Due to differences of opinion between Jica—which had conducted a study on the project—and the railways, the funding for the project is still to be finalized, two years after it was announced by railway minister Lalu Prasad.
The Railway Board chairman said that the ministry had placed an order to import specially designed pantographs that would make it possible to run double-stack container trains on electrified routes. A pantograph is a device that transfers power to electric locomotives from the overhead electric lines.
The challenge before the ministry is to ensure that the stacked containers can pass under the electric line. Some of the members of the Railway Board had recently travelled to China to see how they run double-stack trains on electrified routes.
However, a fundamental difference between the Chinese railway and the Indian Railways is that China uses standard gauge while trains in India run on broad gauge, which is broader.
“It is definitely an experiment,” said Jena, who also said that the Japanese loan would not come through unless the railways agreed to electrify both corridors.
According to the Railway Board chairman, Jica has also accepted the estimate put forth by the railways to fund the project. Jica officials declined comment. Earlier, the total cost of the project was also a point of contention. While Jica claimed that it would cost Rs48,000 crore, the railways argued that it would cost Rs28,000 crore.
Meanwhile, the chairman also said that the Railway Board has received proposals from several states saying that they wished to start high-speed trains.
The board has asked RITES—the survey organization under it—to appoint a consultant who would carry out studies in collaboration with the state governments concerned. But this would be premised on the state governments agreeing to bear part of the cost.