Being bullish on bullet trains

Narendra Modi government has outlined the future development agenda for Indian Railways that includes launching of Bullet Trains (with speed above 200 kmp), increasing the speed of trains on certain track to 160 to 200 kmp with an ambitious plan to have a Diamond Quadrilateral Network,
connecting major Metros and growth centers of the country and providing workstations in select trains, alongwith improvement in basic facilities like ensuring travel safety and providing hygienic food on board and setting up of food courts at major stations.

The feasibility study of the Bullet Train link between Ahmedabad and Mumbai alone need an investment of over Rs 63,000 crore. Japan and France have agreed to participate in Bullet Train projects in India. Feasibility studies are being conducted for several identified links. The concept of Bullet Trains and high and semi-high speed trains were earlier conceived by the UPA-II government. The Modi government has however not only picked up this thread but also included the Diamond Quadrilateral Network connecting Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata and Chennai in its much ambitious project.
At present fast trains in India run with an average speed of 120 kmp. The railways have planned to increase the speed of trains to 160 to 200 kmp so that they become semi-high speed trains. The identified routes are Delhi-Agra, Delhi-Chandigarh, Delhi-Kanpur, Nagpur-Bilaspur, Mysore-Bengaluru-Chennai, Mumbai-Goa, Mumbai-Ahmedabad, Chennai-Hyderabad and Nagpur-Secunderabad.

Deviating from the nature of past Railway Budgets, the present budgetary proposals is devoid of populism and is more concerned about developing the ailing Indian Railway system to the level of a world class structure. But the ambitious development has a major constraint of resource mobilisation. The Railway Minister S V Sadananda Gowda while presenting the Budget spelt out three-pronged strategy for resource mobilisation that includes deploying investible surplus of Railway public sector units for infrastructure development, inviting investments from domestic companies and encouraging foreign direct investments (FDIs) and public-private partnership.

With a view to cut down delays in project execution, Railways will set up Project Management Group at the level of Railway. To expedite the projects at the ground level, a project Monitoring & Coordination Group consisting of officials of State Government, Railways and professionals will also be set up. Railways have been suffering heavily because of time and cost overrun due to poor project management. In the last 30 years as many as 676 projects were sanctioned worth Rs 1,57,883 crore. Of these, only 317 projects could be completed and 359 projects remain to be completed. The Railway Minister has assured to interact with Industry and take further steps to attract investment under Public Private Partnership (PPP) through Built-Operate-Transfer (BOT) and Annuity route and eight to 10 capacity augmentation projects on congested routes will be identified for this purpose. Zonal Railways will be suitably empowered to finalise and execute such projects.
Railways has taken up port connectivity on priority through PPP mode of funding in tandem with Sagar Mala Project of Port Development. 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.  
However, due to funding constraints a huge backlog of sanctioned projects remains. While private investment and customer funding for some port connectivity projects and few other Power Sector Projects have started, much more needs to happen if infrastructure creation has to keep pace with the requirement.

Tourism is another area were the Railways has plans to focus on resource mobilisation. Railways plans to take up Eco-Tourism and Education Tourism in northeastern states. Also Special Pilgrim Circuits like Devi Circuit, Jyotirling Circuit, Jain Circuit, Christian Circuit, Muslim/Sufi Circuit, Sikh Circuit, Buddhist Circuit, famous Hindu Circuit have been identified. Specially packaged trains for these circuits will be introduced.  The Minister said, one Tourist Train will run from Gadag to Pandarpur via Bagalkot, Bijapur and Solapur covering the pilgrim and tourist places of Karnataka and Maharashtra. Another such train will start from Rameshwaram covering pilgrim and tourist places like Bengaluru, Chennai, Ayodhya, Varanasi and Haridwar. He said, he also plans to run a special train featuring life and work of Swami Vivekananda to inculcate good moral values and propagate the teachings of Swami Vivekananda.

Railway Budget proposes to  introduce 58 new trans which includes five Jansadharan Trains, five  Premium Trains, six AC Express Trains, 27 Express Trains, eight Passenger Trains, two  MEMU services and  five  DEMU services this year also the run of 11 existing trains would be extended.
The Budget has allocated an outlay of Rs 5,116 crore for projects in the northeast. This is 54 per cent jump over allocations in the previous year. There are 23 projects underway in the northeast, of which 11 are National Projects. The Dudhnoi-Mendipathar New Line; Lumding-Badarpur-Silchar Gauge Conversion; Harmuti-Murkongselek and Balipara-Bhalukpong sections will be
commissioned soon.

For ensuring travel safety, the Budget has proposed adopting safety standards matching international practices and setting up of Simulation Center to study causes of accidents. The Budget has proposed to encourage indigenisation of imported components. Time alone will decide how far the Modi government will be able to mobilise resources to implement its time-bound ambitious composite plan.
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