The Union budget has allocated a record Rs 1.48 trillion for Indian Railways to raise its carrying capacity and improve the train travel experience.
Of this, Rs1.46 trillion is capital expenditure, while Rs2,028 crore is to reimburse operating losses on strategic lines and reimburse IRCTC (Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation) for the operational cost of e-ticketing. In the last budget, finance minister Arun Jaitley had waived service charges on railway e-tickets to encourage cashless transactions. The charges waived were Rs40 for AC class and Rs20 for sleeper class.
In his budget speech on Thursday, the finance minister said a large part of the capital expenditure is for capacity creation, and mentioned different initiatives being taken. These include track doubling, and third and fourth line works of 18,000 km; 5,000 km of gauge conversion; redeveloping 600 railway stations, equipping them with Wi-Fi and CCTV cameras; introduction of modern train-sets; and escalators for stations with footfalls over 25,000.
The budget also had good news for suburban railways. Jaitley said Mumbai’s suburban rail system is being expanded at cost of Rs10,000 crore, and an additional suburban network worth Rs40,000 crore was also being planned, including elevated corridors. Similarly, 160 km of suburban rail network worth Rs17,000 crore has been planned for Bengaluru.
While the finance minister pointed to the Railways’ efforts on track renewal and capacity creation, interestingly, the allocation for replacing old used assets (also known as depreciation reserve funds) saw a drastic reduction of over 85% from Rs5,400 crore in 2017-18 to Rs500 crore 2018-19 as per the budget documents.
Figures from the budget presented a dismal picture of the national carrier. Railways’ gross budgetary support (GBS) which was around Rs55,000 crore last year has been revised to Rs41,813 crore. This means the national carrier failed to used funds despite statements and commitments by the top management. As a result, GBS for 2018-19 is Rs55,088 crore only. Similarly, the pension bill for Railways increased from Rs35,100 crore in 2016-17 to Rs47,600 crore, a burden for the cash-starved national carrier.
Railway minister Piyush Goyal lauded the budget, stating there is a special focus on efficient operations of Indian Railways. “Once the 18,000 km capacity expansion and 5,000 km doubling is done, Indian Railways will once again emerge as a preferred mode of travel for common man... Rs73,000 crore given for security purpose in the budget is historic. It shows our focus we have on safety aspect of Indian Railways,” said Goyal, adding that the suburban network for Bengaluru was a big announcement.
Goyal said the government accorded the highest priority to safety in line with its philosophy that every life is precious. The total expenditure planned on safety activities including Rashtriya Rail Sanraksha Kosh (RRSK) is Rs68,725 crore in RE 2017-18 and Rs73,065 crore in BE 2018-19. The RRSK will comprise Rs 5,000 crore from Capital (Budgetary Support), Rs10,000 crore from Railway Safety Fund received as Railways’ share from Central Road fund and Rs5,000 crore from Railways’ revenue.