A video presentation on a redeveloped Habibganj railway station in Bhopal, reveals a huge glass dome-like structure serving as the entrance for passengers. Once inside, passengers can avail the services of cafeterias and food plazas and wait for trains at a lounge. There would also be holding areas for passengers at every platform and an exit underpass for passengers de-boarding trains to ease congestion on platforms.
When redone, Habibganj would offer travellers the first experience of the Indian Railways’ touted station redevelopment programme. The transporter had selected 400 stations for redevelopment, at an expenditure of Rs 96,000 crore by private developers. From the list, a detailed study was conducted for 50 stations with 28 of them being priotitised.
The plan for station redevelopment extends beyond 400 stations though. “Another 300 stations will be redeveloped as we plan to partner with the Smart Cities Mission, Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation, and Heritage City Development and Augmentation Yojana,” says Rajiv Chaudhry, adviser-station redevelopment, Railway Board.
In July 2016, the Comptroller and Auditor General had said the railways’ station modernisation plan was progressing at a slow pace, pulling up the transporter for “improper and inadequate maintenance of passenger amenities”. Things have got moving since then, what with work at the Habibganj station expected to start soon and another 23 stations likely to be put up for bids (see chart). Habibganj station will be redeveloped by Bansal Pathways Habibganj, an SPV of Bansal Construction Works and Prakash Asphalting and Toll Highways (India). The estimated cost of station redevelopment is R100 crore and that of commercial redevelopment around Rs 350 crore.
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In the 2009-10 Railway Budget, then Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee had proposed the idea of developing 50 world-class stations. But work could not take off despite studies being conducted. It also became clear with time that station redevelopment and retail commercial development were difficult to implement together. “So around two years back, the idea of decoupling the two came up,” says Chaudhry.
Under the new model, the railways will monetise surplus railway land —which could be in the vicinity of the station or elsewhere in the city—by leasing it out for 45 years to developers who in turn will redevelop stations. The developer would earn revenue from the commerical establishments on the land, as also non-fare revenue streams at the station such as publicity and parkings. The developer would maintain the station for 15 years, after which the maintenance contract would come up for rebidding. Core operations at the station like track maintenance and train running would continue to be handled by the transporter.
To return to Habibganj station, it would have more to offer to travellers besides its refurbished interiors; outside, on its western side, would lie commercial establishments, a bus terminal, office lobbies and service apartments, while the eastern side would have hospitals, hotels, convention centre, and spas. That might change the way passengers visualise train travel, once it is functional in three years’ time.