A spate of rail accidents in recent times has forced the Central government to put passenger safety up on the priorities. For the first time, the Finance Ministry may announce a special fund of Rs 20,000 crore for rail safety in the general budget to be presented on February 1.
A senior rail ministry official said there will be no major announcement related to new trains and infrastructure project but the special safety fund will be the key announcement this year.
"Keeping in view the recent rail accidents, Railways have sought Rs 1.19 lakh crore over the next five years from the government for safety upgradation of the rail network and the Finance Ministry is likely to grant Rs 20,000 crore in the first year," the official said. Official sources said replacement of old tracks and conventional coaches with advanced LHB coaches will be the focus this year.
Railways have also ordered to expedite manufacture of LHB coaches at its rail coach factories.
This is for the first time that the rail budget will be merged with the general budget. According to sources, General Budget will have about two-page mention of railways' upcoming activities, including major projects, expenditure and revenue targets for the next fiscal. A railway board official said fencing of the Delhi-Howrah and Delhi-Mumbai railway routes, formation of the railway holding company, and adequate fund allocation for strengthening tracks and bridges will be the highlights of the proposals in the upcoming Budget 2017-18. Faced with major financial losses, the Indian railway is forming up a holding company with net worth of Rs 34,000 crore comprising 14 PSUs. Officials said fencing will be a daunting task given the high cost.
The project, sources claimed, would cost about Rs 45 lakh per km. Fencing off the entire route is crucial for running trains at 160 km per hour which can be later raised to 200 km per hour, a senior Railway Ministry official said.
Describing it as a paradigm shift for rail network development, he said fencing is essential for preventing trespassing and cattle movement and it will find prominent mention in the budget papers. Besides fencing, track and signalling upgradation and elimination of unmanned level-crossings along the way for major trunk routes of both the corridors will be taken up at an estimated cost of Rs 21,000 crore. According to the feasibility study, it is a remunerative project with both routes having high returns.
While the rate of return for Delhi-Howrah route is 18 per cent, it is 14.7 per cent for Delhi-Mumbai, he said. The two trunk routes Howrah-Chennai and Mumbai-Chennai sectors will also be taken up later, he said. Notably, there have been five train derailments in the last two months in which nearly 200 people were killed and score others were injured.