The Indian Railways is an engine that hauls development: real estate prices, growth of regions and districts along the way, feeder transportation routes, commercial establishments, and even popularity of politicians.
Every February, the incumbent railways minister presents the annual budget, doling out crores of rupees and announcing new trains and projects for different regions. This year the onus is on Pawan Kumar Bansal, but neither Mumbaikars nor the rest of India should get too excited. The overall outlay is expected to undergo downscaling from Rs 58,000 crore (in 2012-13) to Rs 51000 crore. So, freebies, if any, will be few and far between.
The suburban train system of Mumbai — a lifeline for 75 lakh daily commuters, with overcrowded trains, tardy services, perpetual technical snags, unhygienic station premises and issues galore — remains continually in need of attention. Leave aside provision of air-conditioned trains or escalators at stations: basic amenities like toilets inside stations, clean water supply, eatables at food stalls, operational fans inside trains, garbage-free platforms, and even roofs are missing at many suburban stations.
The saturated suburban rail system is parched for funds, which it needs to augment its capacity. Plans are being drawn up for completion of fifth and sixth lines on Kurla-CST (cut short at Parel) and Borivli-Mumbai Central that are long-awaited. It took the railways 15 years to add two lines on the Kurla-Thane stretch. The state government and railways are always grappling over the planned elevated corridors of Churchgate-Virar and CST-Panvel. Naturally, corporate honchos are wary because of the non-committal approach of the railways and government over these multi-crore projects.