on right track

Source: The Hitavada      Date: 03 Feb 2018 10:00:35

BY ANNOUNCING a capital expenditure of Rs 1.48 lakh crore for Indian Railways in the Budget presented on Thursday, Finance Minister Mr. Arun Jaitley has put in place an ambitious plan to bring the national transporter back on revenue and safety track. This capital expenditure is the highest ever made for the Railways so far. It is path-breaking and a welcome initiative that puts the focus on modernisation of Railways, passenger safety, capacity creation and also opening up of employment opportunities.

The capex speaks of the Government’s vision to create a state-of-the-art, hi-tech, and sustainable rail transportation system. The allocation announced is Rs. 17,000 crore higher than last year’s budget. It lays stress on revving up the flagging revenues of Indian Railways and at the same time provide comfortable and efficient transport to the commuters. The plan not only deals with enhancing carrying capacity and raking up revenues but it also has put in place comprehensive measures to mitigate mishaps and other eventualities.

The most welcome step is inclusion of Mumbai’s suburban and city rail network. Mr. Jaitley has announced expansion of the suburban network spread over 465 kms in megapolis at a cost of Rs. 11,000 crore and also Rs. 40,000 crore for local trains, metro and monorail. The suburban railway in Mumbai operates 2342 local trains and carries more than 7.5 million commuters daily. Its expansion will be a bonanza for Mumbai that depends heavily on the network -- the city’s lifeline.

Also finding the mention is the local rail network in Bengaluru. A corpus of Rs. 17,000 crore has been announced for ‘Namma Metro’ under the first phase of Bengaluru Suburban Rail Project. Providing sustainable mobility to millions of railway commuters within the country is the cornerstone of this allocation.

The primary focus of the highest-ever allocation is capacity expansion, doubling and maintenance of tracks, redevelopment of railway stations and producing top-end coaches. Over 18,000 kms of doubling, third and fourth line works and 5,000 kilometers of gauge conversion would result in augmenting capacity and transformation of the entire network into broad gauge. All this adds to a safe and luxurious travel for the commuters.

The plan also takes care of the safety point with upgradation of signals and use of fog safety devices. Though there cannot be a system to entirely wipe out the possibilities of damages during winter, specially in North India, the fog safety devices would definitely help in minimising such incidents. Then there is the Train Protection and Warning System that can help in taking preventive steps with modern technology. Track renewal of over 3600 kms and special attention on maintenance of track infrastructure will go a long way in ensuring passenger safety.

Mr. Jaitley has also announced WiFi and CCTV systems at every station and escalators at stations with footfall of more than 25,000. This is the most welcome step in the backdrop of the tragedy that took place at Elphinstone Road station in Mumbai last year. Lack of space for movement and age-old, rickety infrastructure have remained two big hurdles in augmenting passenger safety at railway stations. Once the modernisation plan is implemented at stations it will help in solving this problem to a major extent, especially in cities with large commuter base.

Modernisation of Railways with the help of technology creates a perfect ecosystem for development of smart cities. Total focus on Dedicated Freight Corridors will also attract more business and also open up employment opportunities for local populace. The ambitious capex allocation has set the ball rolling but the onus is also on the commuters to keep it on track.