A SLEW of measures to upgrade and modernise India's rail network – including plans for its first bullet train – was proposed in Parliament yesterday as the new Indian government sought to live up to its election promises.
Railway minister DV Sadananda Gowda said India’s first bullet train will be launched on the Mumbai-Ahmedabad sector. On the table are also a planned 'diamond quadrilateral' network of high-speed rail connecting four metro cities (Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai), and deployment of high-speed trains on the nine existing rail circuits.
"(The state-owned) Indian Railways is on its way to fulfil the long-cherished dream of running a bullet train. While bullet trains will require completely new infrastructure, higher speed for existing trains will be achieved by upgrading the present network," said Gowda.
Routes where high-speed trains will be rolled out include Delhi-Agra, Delhi-Chandigarh, Bengaluru-Chennai and Mumbai-Goa. Some 58 new trains, as well as tourist trains to connect religious pilgrimage destinations, will be introduced.
Gowda gave no time frame for the proposed projects but said US$83 billion will be required over the next 10 years to fund these plans, and the ministry will seek a mix of private and foreign direct investment and public-private partnerships to this end.
Major railway stations will be improved with new food courts, while private companies will be roped in to maintain a higher standard of hygiene.
Welcoming the proposal, Subhash Goyal, president, Indian Association of Tour Operators, expects that an upgraded rail network will encourage international and domestic tourism, noting: "International tourists complain about the food quality and poor hygiene at railway stations."
Madhavan Menon, managing director, Thomas Cook India lauded the budget as “visionary and a significant step towards developing new tourism hubs”.
Likewise Rajesh Magow, co-founder and CEO-India, MakeMyTrip, said: "This rail budget heralds positive developments for the domestic travel sector. We welcome the decision to push private-public partnerships and open foreign direct investment in rail infrastructure, as it will ensure better services and products for the traveller."