Rly settles for slower trains to reduce costs

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Railway Board chief says high-speed project on

Owing to prohibitive cost of high-speed trains, Indian Railways has settled for 160-200 km per hour trains to prune cash outgo and use in-house technology support, Railway Board chairman Arunendra Kumar said.

“High-speed trains of 300 km per hour were technically possible but would lead to incurring costs that are prohibitive at Rs 100-120 crore per km. So we are planning to increase speed to 160-200 km called medium high speed (on trunk routes),” Kumar told Financial Chronicle.

He however made it clear that the high-speed train project has not been put into cold storage. Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and Indian Railways were in the midst of a joint feasibility study for the first Mumbai-Ahmedabad corridor that would cost about Rs 63,000 crore, equivalent to the annual plan of railways.

Speed of 160-200 km required only improving signaling, fencing and strengthening of railway lines and bridges, he said adding “We already have locomotives and coaches for this speed. This is a doable concept.”

The cost is being estimated and he expected it to be not more than Rs 5 crore per km. At present, trains run at a speed of 100-120 km on the existing track.

“Initially, we will be doing a small but busy stretch — Delhi-Agra and Delhi-Kanpur. Based on the experience, it would be replicated in other trunk routes in phases. Even if a decision is taken on high-speed trains, it would take at least 10 years to complete the project. The joint feasibility study itself would take 18 months,” Kumar said adding a call would be taken after the study. Also, it would be a long-term goal and not for immediate future.

He also ruled out Indian Raillways taking suburban rail projects in future barring the ongoing venture in Kolkata. The existing suburban trains in Mumbai, Kolkata, Delhi, Chennai will however continue as they run on common lines used by long-distance passenger and goods trains. So it would not be possible to handover them to metro projects.

With state governments willing to part fund metro projects, Railways would not be involved in metro development even though Railway employees would work on such projects on deputation.

Railway board chief said funding has been a problem for railways partly because of huge cross subsidisation of passenger fares. Subsidy on passengers travel would be Rs 26,000 crore in FY14 even after the fare hike.

Also, year after year large numbers of projects are sanctioned without necessary funding. The sanctioned projects require Rs 1.71 lakh crore for completion at current prices. Railways has spend about Rs 8,000–10,000 crore from its annual plan of about Rs 60,000-65,000 crore in implementing these projects

“Going by this rate it would take several years to complete these projects,” Kumar said. Railways are also looking at new sources of financing, he said adding that states have come forward by providing land and at times sharing the cost.

Karnataka, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh have come forward to share the cost of railway projects.

Railways is setting up 37 projects under PPP mode. They are mostly in providing and improving rail connectivity from ports, coal pitheads to power plants and in the steel sector. These projects are doing well, he said.

“All these efforts are not enough. We have made a big progress, but much more funding is needed through PPP mode,” he said adding Railways is also looking at foreign direct investment in railway projects on which a cabinet decision is expected to be taken in the near future.

krsudhaman@mydigitalfc.com

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