Railway Ministry considering DMRC-like company for High-speed Train project

New Delhi: The railways are considering setting up a separate entity, possibly a company like the Delhi Metro Railway Corporation (DMRC), to build and operate a high-speed train project connecting some of India’s biggest cities, a favourite scheme of the Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu on Monday held a meeting of senior board members to review the status of the project, under which the cities of Chennai, Delhi, Mumbai, Ahmedabad and Kolkata are to be connected by high-speed rail links. The Mumbai-Ahmedabad link will entail an investment of Rs 70,000 core. Prabhu is said to be of the view, according to people familiar with the meeting, that the railways did not have the expertise to implement a project of such technical complexity. Modi has christened the high-speed train project as the Diamond Quadrilateral.

The possibility of creating a separate entity like DMRC through an Act of Parliament has been discussed in the rail ministry and was considered at the meeting, said the people cited. Though a High Speed Rail Corporation (HSRC) had earlier been set-up — this is a subsidiary of railway PSU Rail Vikas Nagam Limited (RVNL) — but the current thinking is this entity neither had the mandate nor the expertise to work on the high-profile project.

It was also decided at the Monday meeting that states should be made stakeholders in the project. “The attempt is to find the best professionals to implement the project and to insulate the railways from the operational aspect including the losses, if any. The railways, however, would continue to be the nodal ministry for administrative and technical purposes including safety,” said a senior officer, who was present at the meeting.

Prabhu had wanted to finalise details of the high-speed train plan, often referred to as Bullet Train project, to the Cabinet for approval before the government completed one year in office on May 26. “However, when he heard about the progress of the project, he decided not to rush into it. There were many unanswered questions yet about the financial viability of the project. Even the finance ministry had raised questions about it. The minister thought it was better to wait for the feasibility report of Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA),” the officer explained.

JICA is carrying out a feasibility study for the 534-km Mumbai-Ahmedabad corridor and is expected to submit its report in July 2015. “It will be a detailed report which will examine the funding pattern, alignment, patronage, possible halts, fare structure and other details required for the project,” another official at Rail Bhavan told. The study was commissioned by UPA government in 2013.

The project is expected to be brought before the Cabinet after JICA submits its report. Railway ministry officials said Japan may be a key partner in the project, especially for the Mumbai-Ahmedabad corridor. “Japan already seems to have planned official development assistance from JICA with an infrastructure fund set up by Japan’s transport ministry,” the railway official said.