In his maiden budget, Railway Minister Sadananda Gowda said the bulk of future railway projects will be financed through public-private partnerships and his ministry would seek cabinet approval for allowing foreign direct investment in the state-owned network, excluding passenger services.
India’s railway, the world’s fourth-largest, has suffered from years of low investment and populist policies to subsidise fares. This has turned a once-mighty system into a slow and congested network that crimps economic growth.
The Narendra Modi government pushed through a steep hike in rail passenger and freight fares last month, and expectations were high there would be bold proposals to improve the railways – a lifeline for 23 million Indians every day.
On Tuesday, Gowda proposed the introduction of bullet trains between Mumbai and Ahmedabad; the revamp of e-ticketing services; the deployment of women police on ladies’ coaches; and setting up a railway university.
Here are some of the key announcements:
– New trains: five Jansadharan, five premium and six air-conditioned trains; 27 express trains, eight passenger, five DEMU and two MEMU services; 11 train extensions.
– Resource mobilisation through leveraging PSU resources, foreign direct investment and public private participation.
– 40 percent higher allocation for cleanliness on trains and platforms. Cleanliness operations would be outsourced at 50 major stations; use of CCTVs at stations will be extended to monitor cleanliness activities.
– Feedback service through Interactive Voice Response System (IVRS) on the quality of food. Food can be ordered by SMS and phone.
– Bullet train proposed on the Mumbai-Ahmedabad sector.
– Proposal to recruit 4000 women RPF constables to escort passengers in ladies’ coaches; mobile phones for all RPF escort teams in trains.
– Revamping and introducing next- generation e-ticketing system. Wi-fi in A1 and A category stations (based on earnings) and in select trains.
– Setting up Diamond Quadrilateral network of high-speed trains connecting major metros and growth centres.
– Summer internships for under-graduates of engineering and management studies.
– A railway university for technical and non-technical subjects.
– To introduce pre-cooked (ready-to-eat) meals from reputed brands in a phased manner. Quality Assurance Mechanism through third-party audit of catering services; collecting feedback through IVRS on quality of food.
– Battery-operated carts to facilitate differently-abled and senior citizens to reach any platform comfortably at all major stations.
– Eco-tourism and education tourism in north-eastern states: special trains for pilgrim circuits.