Converting the entire network of rail tracks into broad gauge and installing bio-toilets in all trains are among the ambitious projects being implemented to make the railways a major engine of the country's growth.
Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu, who stated this in the Lok Sabha today, also informed about a proposal to lay separate rail lines for freight trains and a move to lay at least 10 km track per day.
Insisting that passenger safety is a major priority, he said the latest technology is being introduced and the government was working on removing all unmaned level crossings across the country.
Investment in railways has declined over the years compared to the road sector in India while it has gone up significantly in countries like China, he said, adding a "clear cut roadmap" has been prepared under which Rs 8.5 lakh crore of investment has been planned in the next five years to make the network one of the best in the world.
Replying to a two-day long debate on Demand for Grants for the Railway Ministry during which the opposition slammed the merger of Railway Budget with General Budget, Prabhu said the government had inherited problems from the previous dispensations.
The Demand for Grants was later passed by voice vote after rejection of all cut motions.
Prabhu said the Modi government had initiated investments to the tune of Rs 3.5 lakh crore in the last three years.
Talking about strengthening of infrastructure, Prabhu said all the meter gauge tracks will be converted into braod gauge in the next five years and all trains will be equipped with bio-toilets by October 2, 2019.
As of now, there are 3650 kms of meter gauge tracks which are to be converted into meter gauge.
According to the government target, entire track of meter gauge in the North East is to be converted into broad gauge by the end of this year.
Prabhu said the government is working on three more dedicated freight corridors to increase freight capacity of Railways. Sixteen per cent of the railway network including the Delhi-Mumbai and Mumbai-Chennai segments takes the load of 65 per cent of the traffic and government has finalised projects to strengthen infrastructure in the high-traffic segment, the Railway Minister said. He said an ambitious plan to fast track electrification of the railway network is underway as part of which extensive use of solar energy is being envisaged. A target of saving Rs 41,000 crore in energy bill in the next 10 years has been set, he said. He said the government has set a target of doubling the volume of electrified rail network in the next five years. The Railway Minister also said the government has decided to go for separate tracks for freight and passenger trains. To increase the speed in high-density routes like Delhi-Mumbai and Delhi-Howrah, the Railway has set aside Rs 20,000 crore and contract will be given to a single agency to ensure smooth implementation, he said. Referring to recent train mishaps, he said said NIA was probing the cases and people responsible for the incidents will face strong punishment.
The Minister said doubling of rail tracks is another priority area and 12,500 km of network has been doubled in the last two years. Prabhu said the government is monetising railways' infrastructure, its data and even its garbage to increase non-fare revenue, besides going for 100 per cent e-procurement to promote transparency. He said a major programme for redevelopment of stations has been initiated under PPP mode and 23 stations are going through the bidding process. The Minister said a Rs one lakh crore fund has been set up to strengthen safety mechanism of the network.
In this context, he said track renewal, driver training, signal upgradation and installation of train protection warning system are being taken up. Almost all the states have been given higher allocation in the budget compared to outlay made by previous governments, he said. On digital initiatives, he said currently 15,000 e-tickets are being issued per minute and 68 per cent of total tickets purchased are through digital platforms. Prabhu said latest technology is being introduced for crtical operations including for manufacturing of rolling stocks. Manufacturing of conventional coaches has been stopped, he said.