Hiking passenger fare will be too extreme a departure from the populist track to expect from Railway Minister Dinesh Trivedi in Railway Budget 2012-13 . After all, he has limited space for manoeuvring given the diktats of his party boss Mamata Banerjee and political compulsions.
However, there are at least 10 steps Trivedi can initiate in this Rail Budget, which will be presented on Wednesday, to turn around the Railways' poor financial health.
Full-fledged logistics service
Like Chinese and German railways, start a full-fledged logistics business, which is worth Rs 5 lakh crore. Convert the underutilised 2,300 goods sheds into high-tech, all-weather warehouses by roping in private investors.
Reap real estate dividends
The Railways' real estate in Delhi alone is worth more than Rs 60,000 crore, almost thrice the annual budget of Bihar. The slum clusters on railway lands in Okhla and Shakur Basti can be utilised to construct container depots and private freight terminals.
Fast-track PPP projects
Railways' investment potential in private partnership projects is worth over Rs 1.25 lakh crore. The Railways can still use its land as an equity offer or give the right of way for constructing private terminals, multi-functional complexes, wagon factories, budget hotels and high-speed corridors.
Worldwide stations in London, Paris, Lyon, Antwerp and Berlin are turning into 'destination in itself'. How about raising a toast next to the sound of an engine or a budget hotel at every model station? From hosting musical concerts, business conferences and offering a congenial meetings point with shops and restaurants, many stations are a steady source of revenue. India too has many such historic stations.
Freight is the bread and butter of the Railways but is poorly managed. Why not introduce a timebound and end-to-end freight service like Rajdhani on key trunk routes even if the rates are double or thrice? The consumer is ready to pay for value-added services, including packaging.
Handle parcels right
Rail parcel business is worth Rs 50,000 crore. Rope in private investors who could be given land as equity to develop private parcel terminals. India has the case of shipping industry, which has got investment worth Rs 24,000 crore to create private terminus for ship anchoring.
Fast-track dedicated corridors
Separate freight corridors are need of the future not only for swift movement of goods and services to the metros, but also as a stable revenue source. Putting 5,000 goods trains on a dedicated corridor would not only decongest the normal passenger routes but also increase the normal speed of goods trains.
Tap commercial publicity
Even with 18,000-plus trains, 8,000 station premises, 64,000-km track length and over one lakh bridges, railways' commercial publicity is worth Rs 1,000 crore a year
Upmarket rail tourism
Set your priorities right while selling Incredible India to potential rail tourists. Have links with state tourism boards, shipping companies and hotel chains to sell packages in Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and the untapped Kangra Valley.
Open base kitchens
The Railways can rope in investors to construct 30 to 40 base kitchens on key routes to improve catering quality. An investment worth Rs 3,000 to Rs 4,000 crore is required. It can come from private investors. The need is a single-window investment policy for possible bidders to be made more investor-friendly.