India need to have extra professional help in restructuring the railways, by laying extra tracks, getting bigger capacity wagons and locomotives to move them, and make the freight attractive enough
It may be recalled that, in the interim budget, Railway Minister, Mallikarjun Kharge outlined plans to start 72 new train services, which include 17 premium and 38 express trains. In a year from now, a Railway Tariff Authority is also expected to be set up, which will advise the government on fixing fares and freight rates. It will also have a say in development matters relating to this huge enterprise, which has, at the moment, 35,000 Kms rails, which also carries a substantial quantum of cargo within the country.
Recent development plans to upgrade the railway network has been projected to cost Rs.2000 crore and the target for 2014-15 has been fixed at 1,101 million tonnes of freight. The share of rail in freight is reported to be about 25% compared to 50% in the case of both China and USA. This, one can see, is insufficient utilisation of the cheapest form of transportation available in the country, for which, thankfully, the main fuel element of coal is available in the country, except that, it needs to be mined and evacuated rapidly from pit heads!
Among the many plans that Railway ministry has had, they now plan to push through three crucial railway link projects by 2016 that will facilitate evacuation and delivery of 300 million tonnes of coal annually from mines in Jharkhand, Chhatisgarh and Odisha. These projects were actually started in 1999, and the corridors covered are: Tori-Shivpuri-Kathotia in Jharkhand; Bhudeopur-Korichhaapar in Chhatisgarh and Barpali-Jharasaguda in Odisha.
The new Railway minister, on taking over responsibility, needs to expedite these pending projects rather than spend time to apportion blame for the delays.
Although Japan has been a pioneer in building high speed rail lines, it is China, in a short space of time, laid 13,000 Kms of high speed rail network, laying new tracks on elevated rails, thus avoiding and or by use of minim farm land. In fact, China has been keen to get involved in India in setting up high speed rails. but for a number of reasons, India has not shown keen interest, at this point of time. They would rather secure Chinese expertise in raising the speed in selected corridors. Chinese experts have claimed that they would be able to raise the speed from current 130 Kms per hour to 160 Kms or up 200 Kms, if an opportunity was given to them.
It may be recalled that both India and China have been carrying on a dialogue under the Strategic Economic Dialogue (SED) to discuss and formulate plans for economic development. The third such meeting was held recently, when Planning Commission Vice Chairman, Montek Singh Ahluwalia met the Chinese Premier Li Kiqiang. It is reported that India would seek their expertise in heavy haul and raising the speed on its existing rail network which would possibly require realigning track and strengthening of bridges. At the moment, India is not keen to get the Chinese high speed rails!
Recently, the Chairman of Japan Railway Central, Yoshiyuki Kasai was in the country He has been keen watching the developments in India, particularly the contract that Japan was awarded to carry out a detailed project report into the feasibility of a Mumbai-Vadodara high speed rail line.
He is reported to have indicated that JRC was not looking to invest in high speed rail systems in India, because, first, it needs the Indian government to fund a large part of the infrastructure required before such a scheme can become a reality.
The Chairman of Indian Railways, Arunendra Kumar, appears to have hinted that it would be an expensive proposition, at least for the time being, to think of building such tracks. Unlike China, which has no serious problems in acquiring the needed land, land acquisition in India is a laborious process, where a disgruntled or a greedy politician can start an agitation to stop the process in no time. We have hundreds of cases where work could not proceed due to these “instigated” public protests and agitations.
Chairman Kasai has observed, while meeting the press persons, that it would be good idea for the Railways to actually use the existing tracks for movement of freight and then, simultaneously, start planning and laying high speed rails to move passengers This suggestion, by him, is worth not only noting but the Ministry must try to act on the same.
We need to have extra professional help in restructuring our railways, by laying extra tracks, getting bigger capacity wagons and locomotives to move them, and make the freight attractive enough so that the freight from road transport, which guzzles millions of litres of fossil fuel, is reduced.
So far, the captive coal mines have been given to power plants so as to ensure continuity of generation and supply; why have captive coal mines not been allocated for exclusive use by Railways?
(A.K.Ramdas has worked with the Engineering Export Promotion Council of the Ministry of Commerce. He was also associated with various committees of the Council. His international career took him to places like Beirut, Kuwait and Dubai at a time when these were small trading outposts; and later to the US)