Home / Companies / People /  Generational shift needed now in Indian train journeys: Vaishnaw
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A major revamp of the Indian Railways is underway. Armed with an expected all-time-high capex of over 3 trillion from next year, Indian Railways is now charting its path to joining the ranks of the world’s most modern, efficient and safe transportation systems. 

In an interview at Mint Mobility Conclave, minister of railways Ashwini Vaishnaw said that in its transformational path, the prime aim of the Railways is to enhance passenger experience. He said the plans are aimed at making the Railways not only the prime transporter of passengers but also a significant freight carrier with a target to take up half the country’s goods movement. Edited excerpts: 

What is your vision for the Indian Railways?

To carry a billion people, we have to have three or four modes of transport which are highly evolved and highly developed such as road, railways, waterways and aviation. We have to change every dimension of railways to be able to fulfil the aspiration of the people. It should meet the aspiration of the poorest of the poor. Nothing we are doing here should put an additional burden on the people. There has to be a generational shift in the way train journey happens in the country and we are moving in that direction. 

Freight is an important component of railway revenue. But the Railways is fast ceding ground to roadways. Is there a plan to regain the lost ground? 

The share of Railways in the country’s freight movement has been falling since 1950s when it used to be 80%. Today it has fallen to 27%. Most of this has gone to the roadways. But changes are already happening with improved infrastructure and dedicated freight and parcel services with time-tabled operations; the share of railways in freight has already increased to 28% now and the year-end with share further rising to 29%, next year (FY24), it could be 31-32%. Our effort is to take up Railways’ share to 50%. Only when this is achieved will the country’s high logistics cost could fall from about 14% of GDP to around 11%. Savings at the rate of 3 percentage points will mean additional resources of Railways’ share by 2030 by when India is set to become a $5 trillion economy. 

There are a lot of things that are moving on a slow track. Where are we on railway rakes and wheels?

I’ll answer this question head-on. Rakes, yes, we need a significantly large number of rakes and railways has already placed an order for 75,000 wagons, which is probably the highest in Railways history. We are now already getting 1,500 wagons inducted every month. The curve of Railways’ share (in goods transport) which was falling has started going up. This was possible because last year Railways added 185 million tonnes of additional cargo. We intend to add another 200 million tonnes this year and keep having that journey. 

With regard to wheels, our requirement is close to 160,000 wheels every year. 

So, we are floating a 10-year tender for the supply of forged wheels as the wheels that we are manufacturing are good for speeds below 120 kmph. But now we need to go higher. Earlier these wheels used to be manufactured in Ukraine and Russia but now we will manufacture them in India.

What is the progress on the Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train project? 

Work on the project is moving at a very satisfying pace. Within a few months, we have completed 75 km of pillars. The work only started last year in August when first foundation was done. I would also like to thank the new government of Maharashtra as immediately after coming to power, they have given us all permissions. Accordingly, now all the tenders for civil construction work have been floated. 

What is the progress on electrification?

Electrification of all railway routes is almost complete. The thought process here is to use the newest technology. So, we need to look at where we want to see railways in 2047. 

In electrification, we would be totally shifting to 2x25 KV, which is the latest technology that supports high-speed rail, and the first few tenders are already out. So whatever electrification we have done so far will also be upgraded.

Private passenger trains came out with a bang but they seem to have lost their charm? 

The private sector did not have an appetite for that kind of risk. It’s a global experience, not just an Indian experience. The passenger service in India is given close to 55% subsidy. That kind of concession can’t be given by the private sector. 

So, if the private sector comes, then the fare has to be increased significantly and that’s not working in the current economic and political climate.

So, can we say that the project has been shelved? 

I think we need to further examine it. 

Gati Shakti mission is where all the infrastructure including railway is integrated? Where are Railways fitting in? 

Railways is a core pillar for Gati Shakti mission. Gati Shakti is an integrated plan for all modes of infrastructure. Within Railways, we have merged nine directorates and created one directorate. Now all departments need to take a call on one table. That thought process has been translated into action. 

So, all units will have a Gati Shakti unit. Telecom towers used to take 7-8 months. Today, tower permission takes a few hours. And if it’s a tower without a neighbouring airport of defence establishment, permission will come in seconds. That is kind of thought process that the prime minister wants to bring in every sector. 

On the ground, it all boils down to what is costing more and what is costing less, in terms of supplies. How do you balance it?

 We have to have significantly more investment in Railways. If you look at competing economies, they are investing around  9 trillion for the last 30 years. The merger of rail budget with the general budget was the right move and because of it, average investments, which was at 40,000- 45,000 crore per annum, has gone up to 90,000 crore. 

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