Monday, May 25, 2015

Many initiatives on passenger amenities in railways but real progress still long way

The new regime in the rail bhawan has also managed to sign a $1.1 billion loan from the World Bank for the Eastern Dedicated Freight Corridor project

During its first year in office, the Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led government seems to have done quite a bit for Indian Railways, though all its projects are yet to reach completion.

From tying up of funds to new initiatives for providing amenities to passengers, the ministry under Suresh Prabhu has a long list of success stories.

It has succeeded in achieving a 91.1 per cent target of operating ratio in 2014-15, an improvement over 93.6 per cent in previous financial year. Railway fund balances have gone up from Rs 5,220 crore in 2013-14 to Rs 6,307 crore this year. Earnings have jumped 12 per cent to Rs 157,880 crore.

The ministry has also signed a pact with the coal ministry and the Odisha government for setting up critical coal evacuation infrastructure. Another agreement with the Jharkhand government is being planned. The ministry has also decided to offer station for redevelopment by inviting open bids from companies.

The government has also managed to sign the $1.1-billion loan from the World Bank for the Eastern Dedicated Freight Corridor project and sign an electrification contract for 945 kilometer of the Western Dedicated Freight Corridor in November. In 2014-15, the ministry also commissioned an all time-high 1,983 km of new rail lines and electrified 1,375 km of track length. 

The Modi government also approved bringing in 100 per cent foreign direct investment (FDI) in select areas of railways and held an investor meet to discuss investment opportunities with corporates. More such meets are likely incoming month according to officials. The ministry also gave approval for two port connectivity projects to be developed on public-private partnership (PPP) model.

Indian Railways also signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Life Insurance Corp (LIC) for funding of Rs 1.5 lakh crore for railway projects. The ministry also set up several committees for overall turnaround of the railways, including those headed by NITI Aayog member Bibek Debroy and noted industrialist Ratan Tata. On energy, the ministry decided to procure traction electricity directly from the open market to  save energy cost. North-Central Railway has already signed a power purchase agreement with Damodar Valley Corporation for supply of 50 Mw power that has saved Rs 10 crore last March.

Various initiatives taken in the past year to boost passenger service include launch of a complaint helpline, a security helpline, e-catering service, a smart card to cut transaction time, short messaging service (SMS) alerts, special trains for pilgrims, paperless booking of unreserved tickets and Wi-Fi service at a few stations.

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