High speed trains may top rail budget agenda; raising resources, a challenge for Railway Minister

With the rail fares already hiked, the stage is now set for the Rail Budget on Tuesday to unveil through a mix of symbolism and policy announcements, the Modi Government’s trajectory for the future of the railways.

Topping the agenda will be high speed trains (HSTs), work on which was started by the previous Government. The new Railway Minister Sadananda Gowda’s speech will indicate how funds will be raised for this highly capital intensive endeavour and was the main factor for the previous Government’s low key approach to the issue.

Mr. Gowda’s is already facing a challenge in raising resources after the Union Home Ministry showed the red flag to a Commerce Ministry note on allowing foreign direct investment (FDI) in the railways. The Railway Budget speech will thus be the Prime Minister’s first test on inter-Ministerial coordination following a different view from another Central Ministry, said official sources.

Mumbai-Ahmedabad HST is likely to be announced for feasibility studies have been completed by the French and Japanese railways. In addition, he will also reiterate earlier budget announcements for semi high speed trains on the Delhi-Agra and the Delhi-Chandigarh sections.

As far as internal resource generation is concerned, the sources said the recent hike (which was actually a UPA Government proposal) has left it with no room to raise money again through this route. They were confident about Mr. Gowda’s railway budget speech providing novel avenues for attracting funds, some of which they said had not been attempted in the past.

For a Government that has promised inclusive growth to all parts of the country, Mr. Gowda may announce connectivity to north-eastern states untouched by the railways. These include putting Arunachal Pradesh on the rail map through the new Harmuti-Naharlagun line and Meghalaya by the Dudhnoi-Mehendipathar rail line. After the high profile opening ceremony of the train line to Katra in Jammu & Kashmir, the Railway Minister may announce the conversion of the strategic North-East line, the 510-km Rangiya-Murkongselek track, from metre gauge thus ensuring seamless connectivity with rest of India which is predominantly on broad gauge.

Mr. Gowda in his initial interaction with newspersons had said safety, security and speed will be his focus areas. With speed taken care of by announcing HSTs on the Golden Quadrilateral and semi-HSTs, a major part of the Budget will be greater focus on internal adjustments and innovativeness.

On the safety side, he is likely to announce a project for automatic closing of doors in Shatabdi trains and EMUs coaches to check accidental falling of trains, an area that has been neglected by previous Ministers, more concentration on rail under bridges, more fire retardant coaches and a host of passenger friendly amenities, said the sources.

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