In an interview the Railway minister told ET his ministry will spend a total of Rs 8 lakh crore to upgrade the railways. Edited excerpts:
The station redevelopment programme was rolled out a couple of years ago. What has been the progress?
Everything has a timeline. There are certain things that are beyond our control. The real estate market is not controlled by us. But in the last few months we have moved swiftly on it. We have got bids for Jammu and will soon be getting for Kozhikode station. We plan to redevelop almost 400 stations and it would entail an investment of Rs 1 lakh crore. We are undertaking station redevelopment under three different mechanisms. One is government-to-government, where we have got interest from Malay, Japan, Singapore, Belgium, Germany and the UK. The talks are still on and around 50 stations could be done on this model.
The other is that our PSUs (public sector units) such as NBCC, Mumbai Rail Vikas Nigam Ltd and state government corporations take stations for development. We have already decided to give NBCC 10 stations for redevelopment. Several oil PSUs have approached us for real estate to set up offices and petrol pumps. The third is the public private partnership (PPP) model under which we have called bids for 23 stations. The project is integral for us.
Railways is on the path of gradual recovery but it still has to be kept in the ICU as it needs to be strong enough. Passenger revenue, which was down in the last five years, has now shown an uptick. We have registered almost 9% growth in the first quarter of this fiscal. We have launched five different premium train products. Given thatnumbers are now growing, we are in the process of adding six crore more berths.
Freight growth has also come back. We are now focusing that our reliance on coal transportation, which is almost 50% of our freight basket, is reduced. Currently, we are dependent on 10 commodities. We have identified 30 more commodities such as agriculture, white goods and cars that will give us growth. We’ll need new policies for this along with a fresh strategy. We’re going to the customers. We have customer managers for our key clients now.
We are signing long-term contracts and offering discounts to clients. We have signed long-term contracts with three major cement companies. You’ll see that our revenue would soon touch Rs 2 lakh crore. Once we have our dedicated freight corridors ready–that are being constructed at the cost of `1 lakh crore–we’ll have much more cargo carrying capacity. Also, our existing lines would be freed up and that would be used toincrease passenger trains and also the train speed.
What’s the modernisation plan for Indian Railways and how much money will be spent?
The government along with several private stakeholders will invest at least Rs 8 lakh crore in expansion and modernisation in the next five years. We have identified several low-hanging fruits where results would be visible in a short span of time. One is passenger facilities such as elevators, food on demand, wifi and also significantly improving the facilities in trains. Then we are modernising our entire track network and upgrading the signalling network. Today,we are building 8 km of tracks every day, which is a huge jump from the time when I took over when we were doing only 3 km a day. We are focusing on infrastructure in a big way and that too meaningful infrastructure. In 70 years since independence, we had accomplished just about 16,000 km of doubling. In the last two years, we sanctioned almost 14,000 km of doubling on which work is underway. This would give a huge boost to infrastructure in the next two years when these projects would getcommissioned.
The operating ratio has been hovering close to 95, which shows that Indian Railway is in dire straits financially.
Operating ratio is a traditional way of calculating how much we are spending to earn Rs 100. We had a good operating ratio 20 years ago because then we didn’t have to pay such commissions. When I took over, the operating ratio was already 93%. Whenever there was a pay commission in the past, there was a huge jump in operating ratio.
Increased from Rs 35,000 crore some five years ago to Rs 1.31 lakh crore. The old operating ratio concept cannot be implied here. This is the time when we are focusing on overhauling railways. We have new revenue streams as well. We’ll have almost `15,000 crore as non-fare revenue. That will boost our internal generation and improve operating ratio.
You’ve launched RailCloud, where all operations have been digitised. How is it going to improve efficiency and what will be the saving in costs?
We have rolled out the enterprise resource planning (ERP) programme… aimed at efficient management of huge human resources and to integrate all of the railways’ entire freight, passenger and administrative operations across the country. ERP can give us a benefit of Rs 50,000 crore in the next few years.Through ERP you can watch your entire rail operations sitting in your room. It will help us use our routes efficiently and also the rolling stock. The productivity of employees will also increase. We’ll know where all our profit centres are
What’s being done to increase the average speed of trains, where India still lags as the average passenger train speed is around 50 km per hour.
We are trying three different mechanisms. One is long-term vision. We are trying to get technology where it’s possible to run trains at a speed of 500 km. We are already in talks with Hyperloop. We can have a pilot run of the train in India. The second is high speed, which is 350 km (per hour).Japan is helping us with that. In the short term, we are trying semi high speed where we are increasing the speed on corridors such as Delhi-Mumbai and Delhi-Kolkata to 160 km per hour on average. The plan to upgrade these routes at a cost of Rs 18,000 crore has been approved by Niti Aayog and will go to cabinet soon. If we don’t do this, people who have any paying capacity would prefer airways.
It should be in 2022 between Mumbai and Ahmedabad. Japan is providing around Rs 80,000 crore for that. It’s a soft loan for a period of 50 years at interest of 0.1%. We’ve never had such a cheap loan and the tied component is as low as 15%. Since everything is in place, we should be able to meet the project deadline.
There have been some major train accidents recently. What’s the plan to improve passenger safety?
It’s my responsibility to ensure passengers have a safe journey. I have already got a plan worth Rs 1 lakh crore in place to be spent over five years on upgradation of our safety parameters. The entire money would be spent on upgrading the network. Finance ministry is funding it partially.
If anyone is targeted because of religion, it will not be tolerated. The Prime Minister has also recently tweeted about it. We have already directed railway police to be more active and improve safety. I have also requested the states to do that as well. It’s a telling message–whosoever is doing it should be given strictest punishment.We are putting in a centralised monitoring system. We are also spending Rs 500 crore to install CCTV on trains which will increase vigilance.
Source Link – ET