From rolling out of new Vande Bharat trains to station redevelopment to Kavach implementation after a deadly train accident in Odisha, the year 2023 was eventful for Indian Railways. With Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman gearing up to present the Interim Budget on February 1, it will be keenly watched if the government continues the trend of higher capital allocation for the railway sector.

The Union Budget 2023 had allocated ₹2.4 lakh crore to the Indian Railways, which was the highest ever amount earmarked to the national transporter. This allocation was over 30 times the budgetary support proposed in the financial year 2004-05, 8 times over 2013-14, and 75% higher over the previous year. The railway sector was allotted ₹8,000 crore in FY05, ₹29,055 crore in FY14, and ₹1.37 lakh crore in the previous fiscal.

Given the government’s strong impetus on railway infrastructure development and modernisation of Indian Railways with modern stations, modern trains, and modern technology, the budgetary allocation for railways is expected to cross ₹3 lakh crore this budget.

The key focus of the budget 2024 will be on the launching of new Vande Bharat trains as well as no-frills Amrit Bharat Express, green initiatives, fast-tracking of major infrastructure projects, enhancing safety in train operations, rapid implementation of Kavach, dedicated freight corridor, and others.

With Lok Sabha elections around the corner where Prime Minister Narendra Modi is seeking to return to power for a third term, the government is likely to refrain from hiking passenger ticket or freight fares.

New Vande Bharat and Amrit Bharat Trains

The budget is likely to unveil plans for increasing the production of Vande Bharat trains. The Ministry of Railways in a recent report says that 35 indigenously designed, semi-high speed Vande Bharat Express trains (70 services) are currently serving people across the country. Six more Vande Bharat trains will be launched soon, making it to 82 services.

The ministry is also planning to increase the number of Amrit Bharat Trains for the convenience of passengers. This train, having locos at both ends for better acceleration, provides improved facilities for rail passengers like beautiful and attractive designed seats, better luggage rack, mobile charging point with suitable mobile holder, LED lights, CCTV, public information system, among others. This month, two Amrit Bharat Trains - Darbhanga-Ayodhya-Anand Vihar Terminal Amrit Bharat Express and Malda Town-Sir M. Visvesvaraya Terminus (Bengaluru) Amrit Bharat Express have already been launched.

Kavach installation

In the backdrop of a deadly train accident involving the Bengaluru-Howrah Superfast Express, the Shalimar-Chennai Central Coromandel Express, and a goods train, Indian Railways is likely to give top priority to safety in train operations and security of passengers.

The budget may propose rapid installation of Kavach, which has only been implemented on a small portion of the railway network. Kavach is an indigenously developed automatic train protection (ATP) system, which aids the loco pilot in train running within specified speed limits by automatic application of brakes in case loco pilot fails to do so and also help the train safely run during inclement weather.

Currently, it covers only 1,465 route kilometers and 121 locomotives in the South Central Railway zone. Recently, the railway ministry awarded Kavach contracts for Delhi- Mumbai (including Ahmedabad-Vadodara Section) & Delhi- Howrah (including Luknow—Kanpur Section) corridors (approximately 3000 route km) covering Eastern Railway, East Central Railway, North Central Railway, Northern Railway, West Central Railway & Western Railway.

Focus on freight loading

Given that the Indian Railways is focusing on maximising its freight potential, the budget may propose measures for improving freight loading and increasing revenue from this segment.

During FY23, Railways generated ₹1.6 lakh crore from freight revenue, while it achieved an originating freight loading of 1,512 metric tones (MT), an incremental loading of 94 MT over the previous best of 1,418 MT achieved in FY22 with a growth of 7%.

Green Initiatives

As the Indian Railway aims to become net zero carbon emitter by 2030, the budget may announce a new initiative to achieve this target.

In the recent past, Indian Railways has taken a number of initiatives to reduce its carbon emissions which include use of energy efficient technologies like completely switching over to production of three phase electric locomotives with regenerative features, use of head on generation (HOG) technology, use of LED lights in buildings and coaches, star rated appliances and afforestation.

As of October 2023, about 211 MW of solar plants (both on Rooftops and on land) and about 103 MW of Wind power plants have been commissioned. Further, about 2,150 MW of renewable capacity has also been tied up, as per government data.

New tracks

Laying new tracks is going to be a key focus area of the railway budget as Indian Railways plans to modernise its network and boost train speed. During 2004-14, 14,985 route kilometres (RKM) of rail track work was done whereas in the last 9 years (2014-23), 25,871 RKM of track laying work has been done. In the year 2022-23, per day 14 km track laid and this year’s target is to achieve 16 km per day track laying.

Fast tracking of major infra projects

The budget is also seen proposing budgetary allocation for fast tracking of major infrastructure projects.

As per railway ministry data, the work on Jiribam - Imphal new line (110.63 km) for connectivity with Manipur has achieved physical progress of 93%. While the world’s highest pier bridge with a pier height of 141 m being constructed over the valley of river Ijai near Noney is nearing completion, work on Chenab Bridge is nearing completion. 

Meanwhile, for the development of Mumbai-Ahmedabad high speed rail corridor, all civil contracts were awarded for Gujarat and Maharashtra. While 100% land acquisition has been completed in Gujarat, 115.8 km viaduct and 267 km of pier casting have been completed. Works on all 8 HSR Stations (Vapi, Bilimora, Surat, Bharuch, Anand, Vadodara, Ahmedabad & Sabarmati) are under various stages of construction.

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