If Union railway minister Dinesh Trivedi's statements are anything to go by, the railways ministry, it seems, believes that involvement of private sector could help improve the quality of services on the suburban network.
Trivedi said that his ministry was considering handing over the suburban section of the Indian Railways to a separate entity. Trivedi said: "A special purpose vehicle (SPV) could be formed for it. It is time we separated the suburban section from Indian Railways. The railways can continue to handle the operations."
A special purpose vehicle is a separate entity floated to carry out a project. "Handing over the suburban network to a separate entity would mean handling the services in a professional manner. Currently, the biggest problem with the suburban section is the slow reaction of the administration to the growing demands of commuters," said a railway official, requesting anonymity.
Ahead of the union railway budget, which is likely to be presented on March 14, Trivedi had a meeting with state government officials, ministers and parliamentarians in Mumbai on Friday.
The demands of various districts and the status of projects were discussed during the two-hour meeting.
"A lot can be done for better maintenance of trains, station premises and providing other services to the commuters. Reducing bureaucracy and increasing professionalism in the administration could be of great help," he said.
As the railways face difficulties in generating funds for modernisation, the SPV option is being considered.
Trivedi admitted that financially, railways are not in a comfortable position and meeting the basic safety needs too could be difficult without enough finances.
Referring to the Central Railways' (CR) balance sheet, he said: "There are four avenues for generating funds -- budgetary resource, borrowing, internal revenue and PPP. All four should contribute while the major share should come from the budgetary resource."
The minister is also in favour of roping in private sector firms to assist the revamp of railway stations and other systems. Dadar station will undergo a major facelift in the next two years.
"We can get into private-public-partnerships for development of stations. Our system and stations needs upgradation. The private sector can come ahead to help us in improving out tracks and railways stations," said Trivedi.
Depending on the priority of the projects, funds will be allocated in the upcoming railway budget. The minister insisted that his major concern is safety of commuters.
However, the minister did not reveal the budgetary allocation expected for the purpose.