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Budget 2017 | Railways: Signal Ahead

With a focus on passenger safety and competition, the Railways has its task cut out

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Breaking tradition and merging the railway budget with the general budget, finance minister Arun Jaitley devoted less than six minutes in outlining the direction that Indian Railways, one of the world’s largest rail networks, has to take in 2017-18. “I feel privileged to present the first combined Budget of independent India that includes the railways also. We are now in a position to synergise the investments in railways, roads, waterways and civil aviation,” Jaitley said. For FY-18, the total capital and development expenditure has been pegged at Rs 131,000 crore (which includes Rs 55,000 crore provided by the Government).

Jaitley said railways will focus on four major areas: passenger safety; capital and development works; cleanliness; and finance and accounting reforms.

Safety: With a spate of recent train derailments, it was obvious that the Budget will focus on passenger safety. And it did. Jaitley announced the creation of a ‘Rashtriya Rail Sanraksha Kosh’ with a corpus of Rs 1 lakh crore over a period of 5 years. But here is the catch. The government will only provide a seed captial for this fund, the rest the railways will need to arrange from its own revenues and other sources. But what will happen till this safety fund becomes operational? Jaitley said the railways will need to eliminate all unmanned level crossings on broad gauge lines by 2020. “Expert international assistance will be harnessed to improve safety preparedness and maintenance practices.”

Modernisation: In the next 3 years, the throughput of Indian Railways is proposed to be enhanced by 10 per cent through modernisation and upgradation of identified corridors. Railway lines of 3,500 km will be commissioned in 2017-18, as against 2,800 km in 2016-17, Jaitley said. On station redevelopment, Jaitley said a beginning has been made. “At least 25 stations are expected to be awarded during FY-18 for station redevelopment and 500 stations will be made differently-abled friendly by providing lifts and escalators,” he said. Jaitley proposed to feed about 7,000 stations with solar power in the medium term since a beginning “has already been made in 300 stations,” he said. Work will be taken up for 2,000 stations as part of 1000 MW solar mission as well.

Stay Competitive: Acknowledging the stiff competition faced from other modes of transportation, which are dominated by the private sector, Jaitley outlined transformative measures that will be undertaken to make railways competitive so that it retains its position of pre-eminence. “Railways will implement end-to-end integrated transport solutions for select commodities through partnership with logistics players, who would provide both front and back end connectivity,” the Finance Minister said. Railways will need to customise its rolling stocks and practices in order to transport perishable goods, especially agricultural products. “Railways will offer competitive ticket booking facility to the public at large,” he said.

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Union Budget 2017-18 railways arun jaitley freight rates