Distinction in travel journalism
Is independent travel journalism important to you?
Click here to keep it independent

13 Jul, 2009

Indian Railways to Link Country’s Four Mega-cities

India’s four major megapolis cities are to be linked for the first time by non-stop, point-to-point train services under the new Railways Budget proposal for 2009-10 presented to the Indian Parliament last week.

The proposed services covering Mumbai, New Delhi, Kolkata and Chennai are part of an ongoing upgrade of one of the world’s largest railway networks, which daily operates 17,800 services, moving more than 18 million passengers and two million tonnes of freight over nearly 64,000 kilometres of track.

The budget proposal by Railways Minister Ms Mamata Banerjee will strive to do for the railways what has recently been done by the Indian aviation industry – boost passenger services, upgrade the terminals/stations and safety, improve connectivity, expand the reservations systems, create better facilities for the handicapped, all without a single increase in fares or freight rates.

It will go further than airlines in some respects with a strong focus on freight movements, especially perishable products like fruits and vegetables, thus allow India’s low-earning farmers to tap new markets.

After getting the lion’s share of attention in recent years, India’s aviation sector has become a victim of its over-zealous growth. However, the railway network, which transports the vast majority of middle- and lower-income strata Indians, is making slow but steady progress as a means of economically viable, environmentally friendly, inclusive and safe mass travel around India.

For the tourism sector, domestic tourism will benefit first, but so will international tourism, especially for backpackers, most of whom enjoy travelling around India by train.

Upgraded services and facilities nationwide will open up access to dozens of destinations, creating new tour packaging opportunities, boosting the average length of stay and distribution of earnings. Neighbouring countries will also benefit; one key proposal is for development of rail-links with neighbouring Bangladesh.

Indeed, with the implementation of the Trans Asian Railway network agreement, numerous other countries will be encouraged to undertake similar upgrades in their railway facilities.

One of the proposed new non-stop railway links will run East-West from Kolkata to Mumbai while other non-stop services will link the capital of New Delhi with Kolkata, Chennai and a number of key cities in North, Central and Southern India, viz. Lucknow, Pune, Allahabad and Bhubaneshwar. Another non-stop service will run Kolkata-Amritsar. These will be operated on bi-weekly or tri-weekly basis.

Another 57 “superfast” train services will be created, linking cities such as Visakhapatnam-Mumbai, Kolkata-Bangalore and Mumbai-Varanasi. A further 27 services will be extended beyond existing destinations, and 13 upgraded to nearly daily services.

The 50 railway stations of nearly all these key cities will be upgraded to “world class standards with international level facilities” through innovative financing and Public Private Partnership ventures.

The Railways budget is India’s third most awaited financial event, after the Union Budget and Economic Survey. Created in an election year, the new budget is designed to be both “populist and popular”.

It strives to provide “inclusive” economic growth and promote greater intra-India social and cultural linkages. Indeed, this year’s budget seeks to continue what is considered one of the most significant “turnaround” stories in commercial history for a government-owned corporation.

Says Ms Banerjee, “The Railways is an organization with twin responsibilities – commercial and social. It will be our endeavour to render all commercial services with a human face” and “make Indian Railways a strong, responsive and vibrant organisation, with higher levels of capability and effectiveness.”

The key issue, she said, was the “need to strike a right balance. Everyone knows that India is changing and changing rapidly. Indeed Railways is making its own important contribution to this change. Today the people of India are eager for faster and inclusive economic growth. People of every region in every state want to see progress in agriculture, industry, trade and business, so that they and their children can live a better life.”

The budget proposes expanding the reservation system, now covering 800 locations with 6,872 terminals, to cover 200 new towns and cities and 800 more locations in cities and towns already having PRS facilities. Automatic ticket vending machines will be installed at 200 large and medium sized stations. E-ticketing will also be introduced.

In addition to computerised tickets, available from nearly 5,000 post offices, mobile ticketing vans will be introduced in both urban and rural areas. This year, 50 such mobile vans will be introduced.

To accommodate the growing number of women travelling for work, ‘Ladies Only’ train services will be introduced in Delhi, Chennai and Kolkata suburban trains similar to that in Mumbai.

To create new sources of non-transportation income, multi-functional complexes will be built in station premises with shopping, food stalls and restaurants, book stalls, budget hotels, underground parking etc. These are planned at 50 railway stations serving places of pilgrimage, industry and tourist interest.

Special freight rates will be created to promote small industries and facilitate movement of village handicraft, cottage industry and textile products to consumption centres.

Comments are closed.