India earmarks 9 billion dollars for rail expansion

India's government announced plans to spend a record nine billion dollars this year to modernize and expand Asia's largest rail network and promised high-speed trains for the future.

"We will have to move faster to connect peoples and places across this nation," Railways Minister Mamata Banerjee said, as she unveiled the railway's budget for the fiscal year to March 2011 in parliament.

She underscored the government's populist focus by leaving passenger fares unchanged. She also cut freight rates for kerosene - used widely for cooking by the poor - and food grains, a step that could ease soaring food inflation.

The railway budget is keenly watched by analysts as setting the tone for the national budget, due Friday, that is expected to have a "common man" theme.

The railway is the "lifeline of the nation," said the minister, a feisty figure in the left-leaning Congress-led coalition who casts herself as a champion of the poor.

India announces a separate budget for its railway because of the size of the network with its 17,000 trains.

It is still the main form of passenger and freight transport in the country of 1.2 billion people despite fierce competition from new private airlines.

Banerjee announced the government would boost spending by three percent to 414 billion rupees (nine billion dollars) to upgrade the dilapidated 157-year-old railway built by India's former British colonial rulers.

"Our goal is to unite the country with connectivity," Banerjee said as she announced dozens of new trains for this year and laid out an ambitious plan, "Vision 2020," for the coming decade.

The scheme included plans for dedicated high-speed passenger train corridors - to be known as the "Golden Rail Corridor" - similar to an existing freight network.

She said the high-speed trains, to be introduced "in the coming years," would reach speeds of up to 350 kilometres (217 miles) an hour and serve as a catalyst for economic growth.

India's neighbour and rival China has already embarked on an ambitious plan to build 13,000 kilometres of high-speed track by 2012 as it seeks to sustain its rapid economic growth.

The Vision 2020 plan also included adding 25,000 kilometres to the current route length of 64,000 kilometers - this compares with an addition of 10,400 kilometres during the last five decades.

Banerjee ruled out privatisation to raise funds but appealed to industry to join hands with the government in a "public-private partnership" to improve the network and said there was a need to make policies "investment friendly".

She promised a special task force to clear investment proposals in 100 days, where they can currently take many months or even years.

Analysts were sceptical about the speed at which plans would be carried out.

But even if half were implemented, the railway "could see a dramatic transformation from a colonial era rail transport company to a modern and technologically upgraded, passenger-friendly rail transport," said Religare analyst Jay Shankar.

pmc/hg

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Guru Careers: Dining Room Head Chef

    £32K: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Dining Room Head Chef to work for one of ...

    Guru Careers: Pastry Sous Chef / Experienced Pastry Chef

    £27K: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Pastry Sous Chef / Experienced Pastry Che...

    Ashdown Group: Technical IT Manager - North London - Growing business

    £40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A growing business that has been ope...

    Recruitment Genius: Technical Supervisor

    £24800 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As one of London's leading Muse...

    Day In a Page

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before