Priority for high-speed trains, FDI
With the passenger fare and freight charges having been increased as recently as June 22, the maiden Railway Budget of the Narendra Modi government focussed on a massive facelift of the sector. It includes introduction of bullet and semi-high-speed trains, an extensive makeover of stations and in a first, foreign direct investment to finance the Rs. 9-lakh-crore plans.
Tabling his first Budget in Parliament on Tuesday, Railway Minister D.V. Sadananda Gowda indicated the magnitude of the task at hand by pointing out that the much-criticised increase in fares would help Railways net only Rs. 8,000 crores more a year, when a steady infusion of at least Rs. 50,000 crores was required annually for the next 10 years.
The Budget outlined plans for incremental improvement of passenger amenities and better functioning of railways, mainly by stepping up computerisation of its major functions on a large scale.
Mr. Gowda gladdened hearts in the Northeast by declaring a 54 per cent higher allocation, which will speed up works in the region and provide rail connectivity to Arunachal and Meghalaya.
The Minister brought good tidings for the new States of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana by promising to speed up projects. He announced 864 more local trains in Mumbai. In fact, 10 MPs from Mumbai had forced the government to roll back the increase in fares for short-distance commuters in election-bound Maharashtra.
The Minister, however, signalled his impatience with uninhibited populism by declaring that additional stops for trains would be tried out for three months and alternatives explored if the demand was not much. “If this trend continues, most of our express trains will become passenger trains,” he said.