Railway Budget 2016: More thrust on existing projects likely

Nagpur: Drifting away from the tradition of announcing populist measures, the railway budget will gradually be a mundane exercise. According to sources, much of the headline policy and its announcement will be made throughout the year with no major new projects, trains, line announcements coming in the budget to be presented on Thursday, by railway minister Suresh Prabhu.

Even as Bharatiya Yatri Kendra’s (BYK) Basant Shukla is expecting direct trains to Delhi, Lucknow and Raebareli, railway sources said new trains are not likely, but increase in funding and thrust to existing upgrade projects for trunk lines across the country can be expected.

This will include a third line between Nagpur-Sevagram-Ballarshah, Nagpur-Itarsi and Nagpur-Bilaspur. Besides, funding will be for running semi-high speed trains between Nagpur-Bilaspur and Nagpur-Secunderabad announced in last budget.

The money will come as part of the infrastructure investment funds from financiers like LIC who have committed several tens of thousands of crores for Indian Railways over the next few years.

Major focus will be on narrow gauge conversion under SECR. “Expect most of the remaining funding allocation for Nagpur-Chhindwara-Jabalpur gauge conversion considering the advanced state of the project,” said sources.

“We will not be surprised if the Nagpur-Nagbhid BG conversion project receives more than token funds for this year as well since it isn’t a priority project. The project was announced in 2013 budget,” SECR officials said.

An announcement on Rail Development Authority (RDA), which will gradually play a key part in running of railways, deciding of passenger and freight fares etc is likely to appear in the budget.

Given the current political climate and various issues already faced by the government, it is unlikely that fare increases will be announced right away — unless a political decision comes in over the next couple of days.

“This revision of fares is sought to be depoliticized in the creation of the RDA, apart from reducing ministerial influence. In essence, Prabhu will try to reduce his ministry’s interference in the running of Indian Railways, something that is already being put in practice,” a senior officials said.

As with last year, don’t expect many, if at all, new train announcements to happen in the budget. Trains will now be added or augmented as per actual demand.

“Announcements on cost-reduction measures to bring operational expenditure in line with revenues and to be able to handle the VII Pay Commission burden are likely,” said railway analyst Alok Patel.

“It is also unlikely that the long-pending demand for a separate railway zone in the backdrop of separate Vidarbha being pushed through region MPs will be fulfilled,” officials said.

Patel said railway zones have already been asked for cost reduction proposals earlier seeking to reduce costs by as much as 15%. This could even include scrapping of unproductive projects that have not yet got off the ground.

However, railway officials said generic announcements relating to improvement in facilities on stations, model ‘world class’ stations, ROBs, FOBs, etc are likely to come in as well as measures to tackle declining passenger and freight traffic will all be made in some form or another.

“Though actual implementation will be an open question considering there are systemic issues like lack of route capacity etc that cannot be resolved in short-term,” said another regular railway traveller Ajay Gajbhiye.

The Nationalists Youth Congress (NYC) has demanded better catering facilities for passengers. “Unauthorized vendors, unclean trains, passenger safety and touts menace are some of the major issues starring at the face of the railways,” said NYC chief Ashish Naik.

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