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Rail budget should focus on safety and modernization
Almost 65 per cent out of 7,000 people representing all sections of the society, interviewed in 20 cities by a team of industry body Assocham, have voted in favour of moratorium on new passenger trains. They want Railway Budget to focus on safety and modernization, improving existing track and rolling stock and separation of passenger and freight train lines.

The passengers want trains to run at much higher speeds, even at 180 - 200 kms per hour, and heavy investment in safety related areas like more efficient signaling, GPS based train control, and making serious attempt in implementing the corporate culture in running the largest transportation system.

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Releasing the findings of the interviews, the chamber president Rajkumar Dhoot said in a statement, “We have 63,974 route kms, 1,31,206 bridges, 9000 locomotives, 51,000 passenger coaches, 2,19,931 freight cars operating 19,000 trains each day transporting over two million tons of freight and 23 million passengers every day touching 7,083 railway stations across the length and breadth of this vast country and yet sadly lack the corporate culture”.

Majority of the respondents feel that the large private sector participation in railways will be possible if investors are convinced that government is committed to run it as profitable entity.

There has been widespread public acceptance of recent modernization of Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and Hyderabad airports despite the huge costs involved and the private sector participation in their construction and running.

Assocham strongly feel that the country as a whole cannot ignore the huge demand that rapid urbanization and immigration of people from villages and small towns to metros and mini-metros would create for more transportation. Though roads would also share this burden long distance travel could only be comfortable and possible on mass scale with railways.

Mumbai that in 2011 had a population of 18.14 million would in just 2015 grow to 25 million, Delhi and Kolkata from 14.11 million to 16 million, and Bangalore, Hyderabad, Chennai, and other mini-metros cross 10 million. By 2030, some 40. 76 per cent of our people, that is 500 million, would be living in urban areas against 31.16 per cent in 2011.

This urban bulge would give us an idea of what would be the size of the long distance travelling public in the immediate future. There is, as such, no escape from building a most modern scientifically designed and ICT based railway system.

As this will take at least a decade to implement in full, there is also no escape from starting the process right now itself. Also it is self-evident that such a system has costs and cannot be run as a social service at a huge discount to the traveling public forever. Assocham wants this imperative to sink in the public discourse.

Accepting that as a public utility catering to the needs of a people with wide variation in socio-economic capability, the railways could not always apply economic viability to every service it provides, most people would like to suggest that the transport major must be compensated for social service obligation from general revenues.

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