Delivering on earlier promises and making the Railways future-ready while ensuring safety is expected to be the focus area for the people-mover in the Budget.

So, completion of the ongoing dedicated freight corridor, having better coaches, using modern signalling systems, safety, taking the network to the North-East and going ahead with projects, as envisaged in the final draft of the National Rail Plan, in the next few years will be some of the priority areas for the Railways in the Budget, indicate sources.

While the Covid year was challenging due to infection transmission fears, the national transporter focussed on moving goods and used that time (when there were no passenger trains) to build infrastructure. By January, it had already exceeded the length of tracks it had to build during the entire fiscal.

Indian Railways operates 65% of its trains despite Covid challenges

Weathering Covid

Till January 29, the Railways has loaded 988.25 million tonnes (mt) cargo, some 2.5 per cent more than the same time last year, registering another milestone. As passenger trains did not run for a large part of 2020 (as of early January, about 60 per cent of trains had resumed services), the Railways widened the variety of goods carried and increased the share of goods traffic in several segments.

As the Railways tries to be an exporter, it wants to be a part of the productivity linked incentive (PLI) scheme rolled out by the Centre, indicate government and private executives. This is an issue the Railway Ministry is also backing. The PLI scheme has incentives for 10 sectors, including automobile, telecom, solar photovoltaic, pharmaceuticals and specialised steel.

PM has assured Railways of adequate funding, budgetary support: Goyal

The Railways’ production units have their own incentive schemes. Over the last few years, the real cost of coaches produced at its factories has gone down, pointed out an official. In what indicates the scope for railway products made here to head to global markets, Vande Bharat Express trainsets were developed and produced in India for ₹6 crore while the global cost of a similar train was ₹10 crore, say officials.

At a time when the Railways is onboarding private players to run trains, it would be interesting to see if there is definitive action on a regulator, something its earlier and newer investors have been seeking.

Speaking at a recent FICCI conference, Sachin Bhanushali, CEO, Gateway Rail Freight, who is also on the transport and logistics committees of the CII and FICCI, said the Railways could offer its AC passenger trains to move Covid-19 vaccine packages to distant places if needed.

Running Kisan Rail trains to ferry agri produce, speedier freight trains, awarding high speed rail contracts are the other accomplishments.