New Delhi: Redevelopment of railway stations, focus on passenger amenities, reducing red tape and overhauling of archaic technology systems are the broad themes for revamping India’s national carrier, railway minister Piyush Goyal said at the CNBCTV18-Mint Budget Verdict conclave in New Delhi on Friday.
The budget has allocated a record Rs1.48 trillion to the railways to raise its carrying capacity and improve the train travel experience. At Rs1.46 trillion, almost all of the railway budget is capital expenditure for capacity creation, including track doubling, gauge conversion and redevelopment of 600 stations. “Just to put it in perspective, what this government in five years would have invested in the railways would probably be more than what has been invested in the last 40-50 years. That’s the scale-up that has happened in the last five years. We are looking at holistic development of areas," said Goyal.
“I believe inefficiencies in our operation cannot be passed on to our consumer. I will have to bring efficiency in my system... We will have to cut the flab, bring efficiency in purchasing, in utilization of material and also in design. There is huge potential," the railway minister added.
In his budget speech on Thursday, finance minister Arun Jaitley said a large part of the capital expenditure is for capacity creation, and mentioned different initiatives being taken. These include track doubling, and third and fourth line works of 18,000 km; 5,000 km of gauge conversion; redeveloping 600 stations, equipping them with Wi-Fi and CCTV cameras; introduction of modern train-sets; and escalators for stations with footfalls over 25,000.
Goyal said that in 2013-14, the capital expenditure plan was Rs53,000 core, which has nearly tripled in 2018-19. He stated that about half of the Rs1.46 trillion will go into different aspects of making railways safe and the balance will be focused on improving passenger amenities.
Goyal said that the government is planning a web of CCTV cameras across the Indian Railways network because when “someone is watching" then the trains will be cleaner, railways will get more revenue, caterers will do a better job and so on. He also emphasised that the railway ministry is now re-categorising all the stations in country on the basis of three criteria — revenue, passenger footfall and strategic importance — rather than only revenue at present.
The budget also had good news for suburban railways. Mumbai’s suburban rail system is being expanded at a cost of Rs10,000 crore, and an additional suburban network worth Rs40,000 crore was also being planned, including elevated corridors. Similarly, 160 km of suburban rail network worth Rs17,000 crore has been planned for Bengaluru. The railway minister also explained that the ministry is looking at allowing people to invest in railway assets without too much paperwork and red tape.
“For instance, someone was suggesting that he has a power plant and if he was allowed to lay a railway line from port to power plant, it will effectively save about Rs2,000 crore transport cost to that power plant whose benefit will straightaway go to consumers... These are the things I should have no problem with," Goyal added. The railway minister said that the opposition to the bullet train from the country’s principal opposition party is suggestive of a mindset that has kept India backward.
“When in 1969 Rajdhani was introduced, the then railway board chairman and politicians had criticised. Today, I am planning to revamp the entire signalling system of railways. It’s a huge project and I am bringing in the most modern technology available anywhere in the world," he explained.
The minister announced that he is planning to revamp signalling system across 118,000 km of railway network in next six years. “When we do this revamp from a 100 year-old system, we are almost eliminating chances of collision. Once that is done, I can literally double the freight traffic and passengers on the existing system," Goyal added.