As one of the country’s leading analysts in the transportation sector, Jagannarayan Padmanabhan, Director & Practice Leader, Transport and Logistics, CRISIL Infrastructure Advisory suggests that the Indian Railways can effectively fulfill its social obligations even while remaining sustainable through measures such as providing targeted subsidy to passengers and a thorough process for appraisal of projects. In this extensive interview to INFRASTRUCTURE TODAY, he says that it is entirely up to the Railways on how it would like to leverage its unique position as the country’s most inclusive transporter.
The first focus is obviously on infrastructure development, for which there are now talks of setting up multi-modal logistics parks across the country. Direct port delivery ensures that all clearances happen at customer locations. The second focus is on overall integration. India has changed significantly over the last ten years. We now need to identify those districts that have grown well above the national average on a nominal basis. That will give us a sense of where the clusters are emerging and help us map the infrastructure based on their logistics requirements. Moreover, leveraging technology is an important aspect of businesses today, and customers want information on real-time basis. The Railways will, therefore, have to accommodate that. Improvements can happen once tracking is in place.
Therefore, we would say that there is a business case for redevelopment of at least the top 20–30 per cent of them. Two, there is potential in the area of private freight terminals, which has already started. Three, the Railways can look at inviting private participation in last mile port connectivity. Four is asset monetisation. A recent proposal talked about monetising all electrification and transmission works. Five is non-fare box revenue of which much is talked about, but not much has happened. World over, it is close to 40 per cent, but in the case of Indian Railways, it is nowhere near that number.
Now, if you have a highway coming up that is going to significantly cut down travel time, it is bound to cause some anxiety. Another reason is that a rail journey is point-to-point, while road travel can be point-to-home, in the sense that you will have bus services that start from within half an hour distance from your place of residence. Today, when you have premium luxury buses providing amenities of an aircraft cabin at attractive prices, there is bound to be a natural shift from train to bus.
Having said that, the railways still has a unique advantage as far as safety is concerned. The number of road accidents is far higher than railway accidents. The second positive for the railways is in terms of comfort of journey. Rajdhani and other services can look at shortening the travel time to intermittent points. The added advantage to the Railways is that once the Delhi–Mumbai Freight Corridor comes up, a significant amount of capacity that was earlier being used to carry passengers could get freed up for freight. That would enable the Railways to run faster and increased number of freight trains.
- Manish Pant