On India's Railways: Express Delivery

3 months ago 10

The railways hope private participation will help it tackle some of its woes

Powering Along: India's first engine-less semi-high speed train, manufactured by Chennai's Integral Coach Factory (Anushree Fadnavis/Reuters)

On January 7 this year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi commissioned a 351-kilometre section between Khurja and Bhaupur in Uttar Pradesh for commercial operations. This marked the first phase of the Dedicated Freight Corridor (DFC) project. Together, the eastern and western corridors will ferry 70 per cent of the country's freight traffic and are expected to be commissioned by 2022.

The Indian Railways has long been marred by inefficient operations, slow infrastructure development and financially unviable projects. The Railway Board is seriously considering opening up its doors to private players to own and operate trains. On July 1 last year, the process of inviting private players to own, design, build, finance and operate 151 passenger trains to be run on 109 routes was initiated. Private freight trains will be roped in on similar lines.

With space made for private capital, the railways can use its money to augment infrastructure and reach new and farther regions in the next decade. Last year, the government said the railways would need Rs 50 lakh crore over the next decade to upgrade infrastructure. Things began looking up from 2016, when extra-budgetary funds were explored and the railways underwent a series of reforms, as well as listed queued-up capital to complete more than 200-odd projects.

Graphic & Illustration by Raj Verma

In another significant reform, the Railway Board was reconstitu­ted and restructured last September for the first time since 1951. Its chairman, Vinod Kumar Yadav, was made CEO. This allows him to overrule members and take decisions in case of a lack of consensus. Swift decision-making, after all, is half the battle won in any attempt towards reform.