Connecting Kashmir, the operationalisation of Chenab (Rail) Bridge, touted as an engineering marvel, and the introduction of Vande Bharat — both sleeper trains and regular chair cars — are now top priorities for Indian Railways.

On the passenger service front, discussions feature faster refunds for cancelled tickets. Generally, refunds happen over three to seven working days.

Safety measures need a leg-up, while the speed of passenger train services would have to pick up across key routes, officials have been told.

Top of the list

“The top priority is rolling out the Vande Bharat sleeper trains. Unlike their chair-based counterparts, these trains have sleeper berth facilities. And are designed specifically for overnight travel, with berths being wider than the ones provided in existing passenger trains. The Integral Coach Factory is already working on these train models,” a senior Railway official told businessline.

Some of the key features include 16 bogies, the majority being AC 3-tier, followed by AC 2-tier, and one or two AC first-class compartments. 

There would be 820-830 berths for passengers. And trains would reach a maximum speed of 160 kmph.

In a post on X Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw, had said these trains would be introduced “in early 2024.”

More Vande Bharat trains will be introduced. There are 51 pairs (102 trains) which are already operational, and over the next few months, the plan would be to “add 20 per cent more.”

The test track of Vande Bharat trains, especially the remodelled ones to suit operations on narrow gauge lines, is nearing completion too. 

Connecting Kashmir 

The specific focus is on connecting Kashmir with the “rest of India.”

According to officials, railways have also been asked to speed up connectivity projects there. Inaugurating the Chenab Rail Bridge, which is 35 metres higher than the Eiffel Tower and is the highest railway bridge ever, will help link sections of the mountainous region of Jammu and Kashmir. 

The ₹37,000 crore Udhampur-Srinagar-Baramula Rail Link (USBRL), touted as a showpiece project, will be operational when the Chenab Rail Bridge gets inaugurated.

“This initiative is expected to enhance connectivity and stimulate economic growth in Jammu and Kashmir. The connectivity projects should be through by August or September,” another official said.

Push for Safer Travel

Railway officials have also been asked to work on enhancing the safety of passengers while ensuring there is a pickup in the speed of passenger trains.

Investments are being made towards the construction of road overbridges and road underbridges. “This will eliminate manned-level crossings,” an official said. From 2014 to 2023, a staggering 11,945 bridges and underpasses were completed, compared with 4,148 for 2004–14.

Several line improvements are being carried out on the Delhi-Howrah and Delhi-Mumbai, key routes of the Golden Quadrilateral.

The average speed of mail and express trains is 51.1 kmph in 2023-24 (till November), while the average speed of ordinary trains is 35.1 kmph for the same period. In FY20 (pre-Covid), these stood at 50.6 kmph and 33.5 kmph, respectively.