Sadananda Gowda is going to present the first Railway Budget of the Narendra Modi government in a couple of hours today, with expectations high that he will offer bold plans to improve the service - a lifeline for 23 million Indians every day.
The Rail Minister, however, indicated that bullet trains and semi-high speed trains are in the pipeline.
Talking to Doordarshan, Gowda said,"High speed trains are not possible within a year or two, but we should look into that direction."
Gowda added that Railway Budget will focus on amenities for commuters and it will benefit India in the long run. Gowda had already made it clear after assuming charge that his focus will be on safety, security and speed. The Railway Budget 2014-15 is expected to be growth oriented and unveil strategies to mobilise alternative sources of funding to modernise and upgrade the crucial logistics sector.
The Indian Railways is saddled with a huge cash cruch of Rs.26,000 crore amidst a decline in the growth in passenger earnings. The new government has already increased railway passenger fares by 14.2 percent and the freight carriage charges by 6.5 percent. However, it will need more funds from international lenders to place in bucks to finance long gestation projects.
With the growth in passenger earnings declining, railways is likley to spell out its strategy to earn additional revenue to reach the target in the current fiscal.
While many unviable projects may be scrapped, Gowda will also announce some new projects on priority basis in the Rail Budget 2014-15. Gowda is likely to announce pilot project for introduction of automatic closing of doors in Shatabdi coaches and EMU coaches in Mumbai suburban train as safety measures for passengers to prevent accidental fall from running train.
The Budget will also reflect the views of NDA government on Rail Tariff Authority and High Speed Rail Authority. The tougher task for Modi will be finding a sustainable fix to the funding crunch facing the railways, including by allowing foreign direct investment into the network, a move resisted by the railways in the past.
By a conservative estimate, the railways need Rs 20 trillion( USD 334 billion) of investment by 2020. That`s far in excess of the Rs 1.4 trillion the sector is estimated to earn this year even after an unpopular fare-hike pushed through last month.
(With agency inputs)