Union Budget 2019: Three Areas Sitharaman Must Focus on to Put Railways Development on Fast Track
The Indian railway will once again be showered with sops in the upcoming budget. But there are areas in this department of 14 lakh employees which deserve greater attention than others.
File photo of Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman. (Image: PTI)
It will be the first time that a full-time female finance minister, Nirmala Sitharaman, will present the Union Budget in the Parliament. The key takeaway of the budget speech delivered by her predecessor, Arun Jaitley, as far as railways is concerned was a massive boost to railway infrastructure.
Jaitley had promised bullet trains, revamp of signalling systems, CCTVs, Wi-Fi, escalators and other such services at stations, in his Rs 1.48 lakh crore budget for the Indian railways.
The country's largest employer, the Indian railway, will once again be showered with sops in the upcoming budget. But there are areas in this department of 14 lakh employees which deserve greater attention than others. We tell you which here:
Since the last budget was announced, 78 people have died in railway accidents across the country. The biggest tragedy was the October 2018 Amritsar train disaster in which 61 people were killed and over a hundred were injured when a train ran into a crowd of spectators who were standing on the tracks watching the Dussehra festival.
Again in February this year, a big incident was reported from Bihar’s Vaishali district as 11 coaches of Seemanchal Express got derailed and seven people lost their lives.
While the railway ministry has repeatedly promised heavy investments into ensuring greater safety, continued accidents point to loopholes in the existing infrastructure plugging which could result in fewer tragedies. The government is yet to come close to its target of eliminating 4,267 unmanned railway crossings by 2020.
Despite having the fourth largest network in the world, Indian railway is yet to expand to welcome more passengers aboard. Several areas of the country still don't have easy access to trains and in some places where they do, the existing infrastructure is not large enough to accommodate them.
In his 2018-19 budget speech, Jaitley had made promises to this end. Conversion of entire network into broad gauge was one of the professed goals. Jaitley had promised 18,000 km of doubling, third and fourth line works and gauge conversion of 5,000 km. He had also promised that 12,000 wagons, 5160 coaches and 700 locomotives were on way.
Jaitley had also promised to redevelop 600 major stations and installation of escalators in railway stations with footfall over 25,000. Greater expansion into suburban areas and more coaches for extra passengers would be greatly welcome.
The oldest railway network in the world could do with some touch-ups. In the last budget the government had promised two big, modern projects. One was India's first high-speed Mumbai-Ahmedabad railway corridor. The ambitious project in which Japan Railways' Shinkansen E5 series trains are to be used, is scheduled to finish by August 2022.
The second was the announcement of Train 18 and Train 20, all new semi-high-speed trains. These trains, which were announced in the last budget, are expected to operate at a maximum of 160 kmph, be fully air-conditioned, have automatic sliding doors on both sides, and two-driver cabins on both ends of the train.
The specially designed trains are also expected to have sliding foot rails, along with sliding doors, to allow passengers to board and deboard from stations that don’t have platforms built to the prescribed height. But despite these big investments there is still a lot of room for improvement vis-a-vis dealing with fog and running trains on time. Modern visual access devices to combat fog like situations and greater accuracy in meeting its scheduled arrivals is likely to be the way forward for the Indian railway.
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