It takes a Mumbaikar to understand the sheer importance of the Indian Railways. With 12617 trains carrying over 23 million daily passengers, and 7421 freight trains carrying about 3 Million tons of freight every day, the Indian Railways is the backbone of the country — just as the Mumbai local is the lifeline of our city.
When a network of such magnitude, carrying not just expectations of efficiency but also of social responsibility, enters a period of much needed reform it beckons a new beginning for the entire country. The railway minister has delivered a reformist budget with a focus on improving passenger services, security, and financial viability, and has finally put an end to the populist regime that prevailed in this past decade.
As the financial hub of the country, Mumbai and the State of Maharashtra had a lot of expectations from the Rail Budget and I thank the Rail Minister for having given the due importance to our State and City. It is a matter of pride that the first bullet train in India will be between Mumbai and Ahmedabad. The provision of Rs. 1785 crore for Road-over-bridges and Road-under-bridges will bring much required bridge infrastructure in to the city. A total of 58 new trains will be introduced including a Mumbai- Gorakhpur Jansadharan Express, premium AC express train between Mumbai Central and New Delhi as well as 3 weekly express trains between Mumbai and neighboring states.
There has also been due consideration of Mumbai Suburban Rail network. Our city will get 864 additional state-of-the-art coaches over a period of 2 years. This translates into 71 new rakes with each rake making at least 12-15 trips. With an increase in the number of trips, there will be corresponding increase in the number of fast trains. With completion of the conversion of traction from 1500 Volts DC to 25 KV AC in Mumbai Suburban Railways, the efficiency of operations would improve besides reducing the cost of operations.
The overall essence of this year’s railway budget is the attempted course correction and the initiative-driven model. The Government’s aim to increase private participation in building of railways as well as bringing in FDI will provide the requisite resources to modernize trains and stations. A focus on passenger amenities/services such as provision of foot-over-bridge and escalators via PPP and provision of sufficient drinking water and toilets in stations will go a long way in helping the citizenry.
It is a shame that the Indian Railways is known for its lack of cleanliness; the Ministry has done it right in emphasizing the need for a clean railway and outsourcing the cleaning activities at 50 stations to professional agencies. Furthermore, the setting up of a separate housekeeping wing in stations is a welcome move.
Few of the proposals that stood out are battery-operated platform cars for the differently-abled and senior citizens; 4000 women RPF constables to promote safety of women; setting up of an incubation institute as well as internships for engineering and MBA students with the railways and provision of workstations in select trains on payment basis.
There is a revolution waiting to happen with ready-to-eat meals of reputed brands being introduced in trains. Setting up of food courts in stations providing regional cuisine would mean that the railway would in itself become a culinary heaven. What more can the people ask for, if they can place the order through smartphones/SMS?
This budget gives an increased importance to safety and security with multi-pronged initiatives for elimination of unmanned level crossings, usage of advanced technology, and introduction of international level safety standards.
Focus on green initiatives such as using solar energy and bio-diesel and promotion of rail tourism are welcome moves. Specifically, the introduction of a special train featuring the life and work of Swami Vivekananda will add immense moral value to youngsters from across the country.
All in all, there is an undeniable imprint of the vision and ideas of our Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi in the railway budget. Especially so in the IT initiatives, where there will be a revamping of online reservation system to support an E-ticketing rate of 7200 tickets per minute as opposed to the current rate of a mere 2000 tickets per minute.
We are looking toward a new era of rail travel in India, with Wi-Fi enabled coaches and paperless railway offices. In the midst of all this modernization, it is the city of Mumbai and its rail-dependent lifestyle that is set to gain the most. Recounting the words of the Mayor of Bagota “a developed country is not a place where the poor have cars. It’s where the rich use public transportation.” With the announcement of this Railway budget, let us aim toward building a country that is developed in the true sense of the term.