Rail Budget: Why Mumbai should not have high hopes

A suburban train network that ferries 75 lakh people every day cannot and will not be soft-pedalled by railway minister PK Bansal in his budget presentation tomorrow. But if Mumbaikars are anticipating a wagonload of goodies in the coming days then reality check is called for. The cash-strapped railways is looking at ways to scale down expenditure and increase revenues even at the cost of dropping a few popularity points, as it showed by hiking passenger fares last month. So, development projects in the city, already progressing at snail’s pace, may face further impediments. Both Western and Central Railway had incurred losses of up to Rs 800 crore in their suburban network till January 2013.

Rush hour: Thousands of Western Railway commuters throng the Churchgate station during peak hour

Railways sources have blamed the flagging speed of vital developmental project work on the red tape in the planning and implementation processes, dearth of funds, and never-ending discussions between the state government and the organisation.

“Overall advancement of projects, many announced in last year’s budget speech, is meandering along, though some work has begun on the ground. The recent fare hike hardly made a difference as diesel prices were upped soon after,” said a senior railway official on condition of anonymity.

Sources claim that for a long time the organisation didn’t have funds to pay private contractors who were executing several ventures on its behalf.

In the rail budget of 2012-13, CR got around Rs 1,925 crore while WR received Rs 1,845 crore. This also includes the funds allotted for spending on the suburban system, which is paltry for a metropolis like Mumbai. This year too the city shouldn’t get its hopes up, as the government hasn’t done much to get the railways out of the financial mess and back on track. Sources say around Rs 1,000 crore may be apportioned for Mumbai Urban Transport Project-II (MUTP-II) and some other assignments.

Railways had sought budgetary support of Rs 38,000 crore from the central government, which instead approved only Rs 26,000 crore. This has forced the rail ministry to rationalise its outlay to Rs 51,000 crore. Interestingly, WR earns Rs 1.70 crore and CR Rs 2.3 crore from Mumbaikars daily, which goes into the railways’ kitty.

At a time when statistics plainly exemplify the partisanship suffered by Mumbaikars, railway officials too feel that an independent-funding mechanism should be mulled for projects in the city. “There is an urgent need for extricating Mumbai from the present structure and creation of a disparate arrangement that will take care of providing world-class amenities like air-conditioned toilets, escalators for FOBs, and sufficient parking and drive-in space for people coming to the train stations here,” said another railway official, adding, “Till such a body is not created, progress of projects will continue to hang.”

Projects in limbo
>> Churchgate-Virar Elevated Rail Corridor: There is not much of movement on this Rs 21,000-crore project, though chief minister Prithviraj Chavan recently agreed to its implementation. Disputes between the state and railways spanning several months have delayed the State Support Agreement (SSA), in turn putting off private consortiums from partaking in the development of the 63-km rail corridor, which is likely to have 26 stations. There have been several changes in the basic blueprint and plans.

>> CST-Panvel Fast Corridor: Another multi-crore project, same fate. Discussions and deliberations followed by presentations before railway board and state have been plenty. However, the going has been slow. Although farebox has been prepared for this Rs 15,000-crore corridor, no one is being able to guess on when the project will actually begin on the ground

>> 12-car trains on Harbour line: The rail budget of 2012-13 had made provision for a deposit amount of Rs 357 crore for this project that is expected to help over 10 lakh people daily. The number of coaches will go up by 33 per cent when compared to the present 9-car trains. Sadly, teething troubles in the engineering department have ensured that only minor work has commenced at a few stations

>> Fifth and sixth lines between Kurla and Parel: CR was initially to add two additional lines till CST, but a few months ago it decided to terminate the route at Parel due to lack of space further south. This Rs 700-crore project has been pending despite several new deadlines. A new terminus is on the anvil at Parel as part of the same project

>> Sixth line between Borivli and Mumbai Central: This venture too has been more or less a non-starter with only basic work being carried out. Currently, WR is constructing new railway quarters near Bandra Terminus after which it will demolish those buildings that are in the way of the proposed line. Work on the fifth line on the same route is nearing completion 

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