‘Want to bring the charm back to rail travel’

Hindustan Times ST (Jaipur) - - Nation -

have ex­panded our net­work by an­other 40-50% — the speed at which we are dou­bling and adding new lines, so then, sixth to tenth year again you will have po­ten­tial to do busi­ness.

And by that time the world will start ac­cept­ing ETCS be­cause prices would have fallen. So In­dia will have a nat­u­ral ad­van­tage to sup­ply to the whole world.

With this ETCS, fog as a prob­lem will be his­tory. In fog also, my train can run at full speed, be­cause trains can talk to each other elec­tron­i­cally. So I’ll add hugely to safety, I’ll add hugely to line ca­pac­ity — it’s the cheap­est way to add line ca­pac­ity, with no land ac­qui­si­tion. Be­cause to­day the head­way be­tween two trains is al­most be­tween sta­tion to sta­tion, is al­most 15 min­utes; it can come down to less than half.

Then I am pro­mot­ing Make in In­dia, pro­vid­ing jobs to peo­ple and pre­par­ing In­dia to ex­port this tech­nol­ogy to the whole world, be­cause we will be­come the cheap­est source. You know the LED story, it’s sim­i­lar to that. Fi­nally, in or­der to do this, I need proper wifi across the route; so I can give wifi at every sta­tion in the coun­try. I will have a

CCTV net­work across the coun­try.

Now, I’ll tell you to the next an­gle to this holis­tic think­ing. When I take wifi to re­mote ar­eas of the coun­try, I’ll let chil­dren and women from vil­lages around the sta­tion come to the sta­tion and use wifi free of charge on a kiosk.

The other as­pect of safety, which also has a bear­ing on ca­pac­ity util­i­sa­tion and ef­fi­ciency, is the track prob­lem. What are you do­ing on that front?

Three things. First of all, In­dia has a huge back­log on track main­te­nance, you may be aware that we could never do 2,500km (in a year).

Un­der our govern­ment, we moved it to 3,000 or some­thing. This year, we will make his­tory; we are go­ing to do track re­newal, main­te­nance, re­place­ment of nearly 4,300km (2017-18). I be­came min­is­ter on Septem­ber 4; April to Au­gust the av­er­age per month track re­newal was 233km; on Septem­ber 7, I did my safety re­view meet­ing.

That day, I took a de­ci­sion to shift what­ever rail is avail­able for track re­newal. What will I get in lay­ing new rail lines if I can­not en­sure safety on old lines? In De­cem­ber, we did 470odd km, Jan­uary we did 576km track re­newal in one month, and Fe­bru­ary and March will not be any dif­fer­ent. By March we are go­ing to do 4,300km.

The tar­get in the bud­get was 3,600km. We will do 20% over bud­get.

Last year you couldn’t utilise the money; it was ₹41,813 crore in the re­vised es­ti­mate, down from the ₹55,000 crore al­lot­ted.

I didn’t need it. We didn’t need it since we have ex­tra bud­getary re­sources also when­ever we need more capex. An­other thing you must no­tice is that what we are try­ing to do is all go­ing to re­sult in huge sav­ings in our in­vest­ment. For in­stance, the pre­lim­i­nary es­ti­mate for the sig­nalling sys­tem was $12 bil­lion. I want that 12 bil­lion to be­come eight bil­lion or six bil­lion, which is why I am throw­ing the car­rot — 60,000 route km, 1.18 lakh line km. You mark my words, we will do it for less than $12 bil­lion.

What is the op­ti­mal amount of track re­newal you need to do?

We will need 5,500-6,000km every year. By 2019-end or the mid­dle of 2020, I’ll make sure there will be no back­log in this coun­try. Which is why we are im­port­ing steel also — SAIL not hav­ing enough ca­pac­ity.

The unions don’t seem to be happy with some of the things you want to out­source, like print­ing tick­ets.

We will have a con­ver­sa­tion with them. We have 11 presses. Five or six of them will be closed in the first phase. Why should rail­way not be fo­cus­ing on core com­pe­tence? Why should we be do­ing our own print­ing? I also have a plan to go 100% dig­i­tal. If at all any­body wants a printed ticket, it will be avail­able through kiosks at the rail­way sta­tion. I am go­ing to give all my trav­el­ling ticket ex­am­in­ers a POS (point of sale) ma­chine, I am go­ing to give all my cater­ers POS ma­chines. And to my mind it is pos­si­ble as we ex­pand our wifi net­work.

Your goods trains ac­tu­ally move at a speed of 15­18km per hour. Have you looked at this as­pect — how you can make the freight busi­ness more pro­duc­tive by in­creas­ing this speed?

That is why we are push­ing the ded­i­cated freight cor­ri­dor (DFC). Re­cently we ap­proved 2,500km work on the DFC; I have a plan to iden­tify 5,000-6,000km more for the high vol­ume freight cor­ri­dors. And as the sig­nalling sys­tem gets up­graded, we will have more ca­pac­ity on the nor­mal routes.

The Union bud­get has pro­vided for sub­ur­ban rail­way ex­pan­sion in Ben­galuru. Can you pro­vide some de­tails re­gard­ing that?

No­body has ever cared for Ben­galuru. And you see the traf­fic; it takes two hours to go to the air­port. This will be the most in­tel­li­gently planned rail­way sub­ur­ban net­work, be­cause we are not fo­cus­ing on land ac­qui­si­tion. What we have done is wher­ever we have land we will use that, wher­ever land is a prob­lem, we will el­e­vate.

So, 68km is go­ing to be el­e­vated and 92km on ground.

What is the sta­tus of the bul­let train be­tween Mum­bai and Ahmed­abad?

Align­ments have been fi­nalised. Sur­vey of land is done. We have given the req­ui­si­tion for land pro­cure­ment. That process is go­ing on. Si­mul­ta­ne­ously, the tech­ni­cal draw­ings are be­ing pre­pared.

What are the other av­enues for rev­enue gen­er­a­tion that you are look­ing at?

A lot of things are hap­pen­ing. In terms of non-fare rev­enue, there is huge po­ten­tial of ad­ver­tis­ing across the coun­try. There is huge amount of land that we are plan­ning to mon­e­tise. I won’t be sur­prised if we as­sess the real worth and value of land that can be mon­e­tised, it may run into a few lakh crores.

Of course, we are look­ing at mon­etis­ing land es­pe­cially around rail­way sta­tions be­cause they are eco­nomic hubs. Even on the bul­let train projects, each of the sta­tions is go­ing to be the hub of eco­nomic ac­tiv­ity. Sim­i­larly across the coun­try, take Ben­galuru for ex­am­ple, I have writ­ten to the state govern­ment to al­low us higher FSI (floor space in­dex) un­der the Tran­sit Ori­ented De­vel­op­ment pol­icy. Then, in­stead of an 80:20 share be­tween the state and Cen­tre, we can do 50:50 for the sub­ur­ban project.

SAN­JEEV VERMA/HT FILE

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