Brand new track for railways

Jul 09 2014, 02:53 IST
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Porters listening to the Railway Budget speech at Balurghat station in South Dinajpur district of West Bengal on Tuesday.	PTI Porters listening to the Railway Budget speech at Balurghat station in South Dinajpur district of West Bengal on Tuesday. PTI
SummaryFDI, PPP to drive investment in bankrupt carrier, 10 airport-like railway stations through PPP in FY15

the railways much-needed respite, however, little it may be”), no further tariff increase was announced, but Gowda said the automatic six-monthly adjustment in tariffs to factor in fuel costs would continue.

Clearly, the slippage in controlling ordinary working expenses and the dip in traffic growth due to the economic slowdown have deprived the railways of the benefits of a fiscal consolidation drive initiated in the FY14 budget. The surplus for FY15 is pegged at a measly R602 crore, said the minister. The explanatory memorandum, however, says the surplus is R6,064 crore (total receipts is seen at R1.64 lakh crore and total expenditure at R1.49 lakh crore, dividend payout is estimated at R9,135 crore). Given a surplus of R602 crore, it is clear the projected appropriation of R5,663 crore to the Capital Fund would not materialise.

Gowda prudently refrained from announcing new projects, considering the huge backlog of existing projects (among the 676 projects sanctioned over three decades, the uncompleted 359 require a massive R1.82 lakh crore). Also, he projected only modest hikes in traffic growth — freight loading, for instance, is estimated to grow an annual 4.9% to 1,101 million tonnes.

Market borrowings for FY15 through Indian Railway Finance Corporation and was revised downwards to R11,790 crore from the interim budget level of R14,942 crore. The funds-starved railways did not provide anything to the revenue-creating Capital Fund in FY14 (the initial plan was to replenish the fund with R5,434 crore). There is also a plan to invest R4,000 core surplus funds with railway PSUs like Ircon in infrastructure projects.

But key to a brighter future for the railways — which boasts of a 1.16-lakh-km network, 2.4 core daily passengers, 13-lakh workforce and 1billion tonnes freight carriage annually — is creating a credible PPP model and FDI-led investments in areas like last-mile connectivity to por-ts, mines and power plants, suburban transport and high-speed train networks.

Stating that the endeavour was to pursue the PPP model in right earnest, the minister said: “It is our target that the bulk of future projects will be financed through PPP mode, including high-speed rail that requires huge investments.”

While presenting the budget, the minister was eloquent about how social service obligations have become a burden on the railways (the obligation amounts to half of the Plan outlay) and, later, speaking to reporters, he highlighted the need for private players to be confident about returns from railway ventures. “Private players have no

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