Success of Rail Restructuring hinges on Quality of Service, Raising Capacity: Swedish Minister

Sweden infrastructure minister Anna Johansson
Sweden infrastructure minister Anna Johansson

Sweden, one of the early countries to have adopted railway restructuring, may have a lesson or two for India, which has embarked on a similar mission. Sweden’s Infrastructure Minister Anna Johansson, who is visiting India, shares insights about various transport initiatives. (Courtesy: The Hindu – Business Line)

What is the railway structure like in Sweden?

The financing of the railways is also from the state — the infrastructure is owned and maintained by government. There are operators who run passenger and freight trains.

The number of passengers travelling has been growing. There are three major operators in the freight segment and three-four in the national passenger segment. In Sweden, goods transportation by rail has gone up, with 24 per cent of the cargo moving by trains.

You have very low network access charges. Do operators get a subsidy?

The local and regional governments can give some subsidy — in the range of 40-50 per cent. But at the national level, there is none.

But, in a way, the state subsidises by funding the infrastructure and maintenance, as well as charging ‘access charges’ at a marginal cost level.

After railway restructuring, how has the market share changed?

For the last few years, we have had problems in the quality of service. We have not paid much attention to maintenance. But the number of passengers has been increasing. Trains have not taken any share from the road traffic; the growth has been due to higher number of passengers and goods traffic.

What is the intermodal share in traffic?

More people travel by car than by trains. The number of passengers has increased by car, but the number of trips by train has not changed much. That is why we are looking at building high-speed railways (HSR) to move people from road to rail.

What is the innovation for train systems that you have discussed with Indian Railways?

We have a new track maintenance system, where instead of changing the tracks, you can simply cover the tracks with new material. It is a new Swedish invention. This is the pilot phase. We have mentioned this in our talks with the Railway Ministry.

What did Sweden offer in the civil aviation space during your meeting with the Minister for Civil Aviation?

Sweden needs a direct flight between Delhi and Stockholm. We have some suggestions and ideas to have collaboration between Sweden and India.

Saab has introduced the concept of a remote control tower. In the context of India’s plans for regional connectivity, was this issue discussed?

Remote control towers or air traffic controllers allow controlling two-three airports from one city. These are useful for us as Sweden is a large country with a very low population. So, having people at each small airport to man the traffic becomes expensive.

You interacted with Swedish companies in India. What has been their perception?

There is an obvious increase in interest from companies in Sweden to do business here. They also see difficulties in doing business but they see that it is becoming easier. Swedish companies have plans for more investments.

What is the amount that Sweden spends on transport infrastructure?

Till 2025, we plan to spend 525 Swedish kroners. We know we need to put more money in infrastructure, because we have not been investing much, especially in the rail segment and some parts of the road segment. For the 2014, the investment in road was about 0.6 per cent of GDP, while in the railways it was about 0.4 per cent.