Will this year’s Railway Budget have something good in store for an ordinary Mumbaiite? Will Union railway minister Mamata Banerjee announce some new projects or new initiatives in the budget today to make our daily commute in suburban trains better and safer? Unlikely, say railways officials.
Indian Railways is not doing well financially. The Railways has a deficit of `3,600 crore, which means it is spending more and earning less. There may not be much to expect from this year’s rail budget as far as fund allocation is concerned.
With increase in fuel cost, the operating cost too has gone up. The recommendations of the Sixth Pay Commission resulted in additional spending of `55,000 crore. Although this benefited 1.4 million rail employees and 1.2 million pensioners, Railways’ reserves bore the brunt. The economic slowdown further affected its earnings. There has been no hike in ticket prices in the last seven years or so. “Railways used to be the only option for carrying goods, which stood at 70%. But over the years, there has been a drastic drop in this,” said a senior railway official.
The shortage of funds could affect fund allocation for the Mumbai suburban services. Officials from the Western and Central railways feel that there is a need to hike fares of tickets — both suburban local trains and long distance trains — to improve rail services. “People expect suburban train services to be world-class. The fact is that the present fare structure and increasing cost don’t allow us to make much skeletal and cosmetic improvement,” said another railway official.
The railway officials want a hike of at least `1 in suburban fare. There are more than 70 lakh passengers, who travel daily on the Central and Western lines, and an increase of `1 would mean an addition `70 lakh to their coffer. This hike would also allow the Railways to repay the loans taken from the World Bank for the Mumbai Urban Transport Project.
The Railways need around `16,000 crore to implement all those proposed projects, which were inadvertently stopped or never took off such as the elevated corridor on the Churchgate-Virar stretch, fast corridor on the Harbour line and connectivity of the CST-Churchgate stations. Passenger amenity projects such second foot over-bridge at Parel station, revamping of Vasai station, escalators at suburban stations, branding 31 suburban stations as ‘Adarsh’ with all facilities announced in previous year’s budget also couldn’t take off due to paucity of funds.