The Railway Budget 2014-15, which is also Narendra Modi government’s maiden one, promises clean water and cleaner toilets; safety of passengers has been given “paramount importance”. Starting from bullet train to roof top solar grids, the budget has it all, including push for private-public-partnership and foreign direct investment for which it seeks approval in Parliament.
The rail budget 2014-15 increased the budget allocation for sanitation in trains and railway stations to 40 per cent than what it was last year.
The budget proposes outsourcing of cleaning trains and platforms at 50 major stations to professional agencies and to set up a separate housekeeping wing to have focused attention and exclusive responsibility of maintaining cleanliness and sanitation at stations. The Union rail minister, D V Sadananda Gowda, in his budget speech said that a corpus fund for upkeep of stations will also be set up.
Moreover, CCTVs would be used at stations to monitor whether the stations are being cleaned properly and to bring down cases of littering and open defecation. Gowda also said that all-India level complaint or helpline number would be printed on the back of all passenger rail service (PRS) tickets so that the passengers are able to register complaints against dirty platforms and toilets in trains. A system of periodic third-party inspections will also be introduced, Gowda said.
Gowda also said that bio-toilets will be increased in all the trains to ensure cleanliness of tracks. Till March, only 2,096 bio toilets had been installed in various coaches at the Kapurthala rail coach factory. The toilets also keep railway lines from corroding. Corrosion costs railway approximately Rs 350 crore every year.
Gowda said that trains would also have onboard housekeeping services which would be extended to all the important trains. The service is currently operational in 400 trains. He also said the ministry will improve quality of the bedrolls provided in AC coaches and that mechanized laundries service would be extended. He also said that platforms and trains would soon have RO drinking water.
He said Indian Railways proposes to extend service of battery-operated carts to facilitate differently-abled and senior citizens to reach any platform comfortably at all major stations.
Gowda said that an estimated amount of Rs 40,000 crore would be needed for track renewals, elimination of unmanned level crossings and construction of road-under-bridges and road-over-bridges to avoid accidents and ensure safe journey of the passengers.
The budget made an allocation of Rs 1,785 crore for road-under-bridges and road-over-bridges in the budget and asked the state governments concerned to spped up their proposals and pass on their share of the cost to the Centre.
Indian Railways have 30,348 level crossings, out of which 11,563 are unmanned. The minister said that each unmanned level crossing is being examined in detail and depending on the site condition, steps would be taken man the level crossings.
The budget also proposes to use modern Vehicle Borne Ultrasonic Flaw Detection System to detect rail and weld fractures. For the same puspose, an Ultrasonic Broken Rail Detection System (UBRD) would be installed at two locations as a pilot project.
The budget also proposed technology for automatic closing of doors before start of train, both in main line and in sub-urban coaches. A pilot project for limited number of trains will be taken up soon, Gowda said.
On PPP track
Gowda also said that railways will explore the possibility of building of boundary walls around existing stations through public private partnership (PPP) route.
Growth of railway sector depends heavily on availability of funds for investment in rail infrastructure. Internal revenue sources and government funding are insufficient to meet the requirement, said Gowda. He said that ministry of railways is seeking Cabinet approval to allow foreign direct investment in rail sector.
The minister said that there has been a lot of talk about public private partnership for raising resources. Railways being a capital intensive sector have not been successful so far in raising substantial resource through PPP route.
“Bulk of our future projects will be financed through PPP mode, including the high-speed rail which requires huge investments. Apart from mobilizing resources, there is also a need to strategically manage other aspects of railway planning and administration,” said the minister.
Railways will interact with Industry and take further steps to attract investment under PPP through build-operate-transfer mode and annuity route and eight to 10 capacity augmentation projects on congested routes will be identified for this purpose.
The minister said with a large backlog of sanctioned projects, funding continues to be the biggest challenge for Indian Railways. He said while private investment and customer funding for some port connectivity projects and few other power sector projects has started, much more needs to happen if infrastructure creation has to keep pace with the requirement.
Gowda said that Indian Railways has taken up port connectivity on priority through PPP mode of funding in tandem with Sagar Mala project of port development. Railways will facilitate connectivity to the new and upcoming ports through private participation. He said, so far in principle approval has been granted for building rail connectivity to the Ports of Jaigarh, Dighi, Rewas, Hazira, Tuna, Dholera and Astranga under Participative Model Policy of Indian Railways, amounting to a total of over Rs 4,000 crore.
Gowda said that Indian Railways holds vast land assets which need to be digitized and GIS mapped for better management and usage. The minister said the resources mobilization using land assets will be explored through private participation in setting up railway related business in railway lands as well as for commercial development.
Bullet trains on anvil
The railway budget 2014-15 also proposed bullet train on Mumbai-Ahmedabad sector besides increasing speed of trains to 160-200 kmph in select nine sectors. The ministry has also planned setting up of Diamond Quadrilateral Network of High Speed Rail connecting major metros and growth centres of the country. Identified stations will be developed to international standards with modern facilities on lines of newly developed airports through PPP mode. Railway has also proposed harnessing solar energy by utilizing roof top spaces of stations, railway buildings and land and proposes to use bio-deisel to run locomotives.