Govt. may open Railway Lines to Private Players

NEW DELHI: The Union government is open to the idea of giving operations of railway lines to private players for enhancing competition, Railway Minister Piyush Goyal said in an interview.

“It’s an exciting proposition. We will be able to generate competition in the process and improve customer satisfaction,” Mr. Goyal told on board the Mahanama Express train, launched between Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s old constituency in Vadodara and his present one in Varanasi on Friday, ahead of the Gujarat Assembly elections.

Mr. Goyal, who took charge of the Railway Ministry on September 4 after Suresh Prabhu resigned following a string of derailments, said he was studying various models for attracting more private players.

Claiming that he was willing to spend unlimited funds on safety, he said clearing the backlog for track renewal would be the focus, and a zero accident rate would be an aspiration.

“In my working, there is no budget for safety. Whatever (fund) is required we will spend,” Mr. Goyal said.

He said the government was engaging with other countries to “rapidly scale up” the bullet train project.

Mr. Goyal is also re-tuning policy to attract private companies for modernising railway stations.

To begin with, the Railways have decided to do away with the ‘Swiss Challenge’ model of awarding railway stations to private players and taken a slew of measures to lease out at least 100 stations.

The steps include increasing the lease tenure from 45 years to 99 years, allowing private players to sub-lease stations for increasing their investment value and mortgaging assets to allow banks to give low-cost funds, he said.

“We had a meeting with over 150 stakeholders (recently). All were interested in being a part of this journey of station redevelopment and land redevelopment but were constrained by the process being followed,” Mr. Goyal said.