India earmarks 9 billion dollars for rail expansion
Thursday 25 February 2010
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.
The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations
- 2 How the language you speak changes your view of the world
- 4 Italian police 'reveal' what Jesus looked like as a young boy
New York woman gives up $95,000 a year job to work in an ice cream parlour in the Caribbean
Inside Travel: Greece 2015 Q&A - should we cancel our Greek holiday? Are our flights safe? And what will we be spending there?
The 10 Best lightweight luggage
The most powerful passports in the world
The 10 Best hiking boots
In defence of liberal democracy
Over 50,000 families shipped out of London boroughs in the past three years due to welfare cuts and soaring rents
EU asylum policy is 'a direct threat to our civilisation', says Nigel Farage
The Rothschild Libel: Why has it taken 200 years for an anti-Semitic slur that emerged from the Battle of Waterloo to be dismissed?
General Election 2015: UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power, Labour warns
Schools forced to act as 'miniature welfare states' with teachers buying underwear and even haircuts for poor pupils
£32K: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Dining Room Head Chef to work for one of ...
£27K: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Pastry Sous Chef / Experienced Pastry Che...
£40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A growing business that has been ope...
£24800 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As one of London's leading Muse...