One of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's key electoral promises was a high speed rail network. And this is a promise he intends to keep. The buzz is that the Indian Railways is moving full throttle to complete several projects - including the much-awaited semi-high speed 'Train 18' that will eventually replace the Shatabdi Express trains - ahead of the coming general elections.
A top government official in the know told The Economic Times, that the Railways is trying to deliver projects worth at least Rs 50,000 crore in the next eight months. "We're working on the list of deliverables before April 2019, and there would be a visible difference in Indian Railways," the source added.
The list also includes opening up of several stretches of the 3,300-km dedicated freight corridor projects, refurbishment and upgradation of around 70 railway stations, and installation of CCTV systems at all major stations and on-board 168 premium trains.
The report added that the tender to install around 5 lakh CCTV systems is likely to be floated by the end of this month, and the work is expected to conclude within the next six months.
The much-talked about 'Train 18', which will run at the top speed of 160 kmph on select routes, is reportedly ready for testing on tracks by September and is expected to be rolled out following a thorough trial. The buzz is that this indigenously-built train set, packing world-class amenities, is likely to start replacing the Shatabdi trains by the start of next calendar year. Initially, six such trains will be built, but the Chennai-based Integral Coach Factory could subsequently scale up, depending on the requirement.
Then there's Railway Minister Piyush Goyal's ambitious target of doubling the national transporter's revenue to Rs 4 lakh crore by 2025. One of the ways he hopes to achieve this is by enhancing freight capacity since it already accounts for 65 per cent of its total revenues and hence, a lot is riding on the 3,300 km long dedicated freight corridors project.
According to the daily, the Railways expects to complete construction of the first phase of the project - 432 km of the western corridor and 343 km of the eastern one - by year-end. To remind you, the eastern one runs from Ludhiana, Punjab, to West Bengal's Dankuni, totalling 1,856 km. Meanwhile, the western corridor links Dadri, near Delhi, to Jawahar Lal Nehru Port, Mumbai (1,504 km).
A source in the railway ministry had told PTI after a review meeting in May that the entire project, being constructed at the cost of a whopping Rs 81,000 crore, would be completed by March 31, 2020. Incidentally, this is India's first mega railway project since Independence.
When ready, these dedicated corridors would ease the burden of the existing railway network and strengthen the economic backbone of the country. Freight trains on these corridors will run at 100 kmph as against the current maximum speed of 75 kmph on Indian railway tracks. The average speed of freight trains will also increase from existing 26 kmph to 70 kmph. This will not only significantly reduce the travel time between Delhi and Mumbai and Delhi-Howrah, the country's most congested rail routes, but also allow the Railways to run more trains. Moreover, the national transporter's freight carrying capacity will shoot up 66 per cent to around 2,000 million tonnes.
In addition, the railway ministry is also hoping to start construction of the India's first bullet train project - the 534-km Mumbai-Ahmedabad high speed corridor - by January 2019. But a lot depends on whether the government manages to end the land acquisition protests that have beset the $17 billion project.
Things are looking much more optimistic for the government's plans to give railway stations a facelift. According to the daily, the stations that would be upgraded by March 2019 include Pune, Bengaluru, Delhi, Shimla, Mathura, Valsad, Ambala, Varanasi, Dehradun and other major junctions across the country.
The railway ministry's proposal to extend the lease period of private contractors willing to invest in the station redevelopment projects is likely to come up for clearance in the cabinet soon. "We have prepared a cabinet note that proposes extending lease period for concessionaires to 99 years from existing 45. They will also be allowed to sublease the land," ministry official told the daily. The railway zones have taken on the upgradation drive themselves under the engineering, procurement and construction model.
If things go to plan, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his team will have plenty to showcase during the upcoming elections, at least on the railways front.
Edited By Sushmita Choudhury Agarwal