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4th IndiaRail Conference: Modernisation for expanding rail logistics markets

Indian Railways has been increasingly coming under the scanner in recent times from the industries and manufacturers for weak policy execution on several fronts. The need for modernisation has been repeatedly felt, yet concrete steps still elude the ministry. The freight charge hike announced days before the Budget 2012-13 was decried as anti-industry. This year, just when the then-minister Dinesh Trivedi looked serious in implementation on new technology, PPP and a host of other reforms that the Vision 2020 document indicates, he was unceremoniously made a political victim, as were companies and transporters depending on the Railways.

Speakers and panellists at the 4th IndiaRail Conference, organised at The Lalit Hotel in New Delhi by ASAPP Media-owned FIRST Infocentre, discussed how modernisation and safety issues are related, procurement issues, new technologies in surveillance systems and wagons, what the Dedicated Freight Corridors have in store for freight users, and more. Conference Advisor RC Acharya, ex-Member (Mechanical), Railway Board and ex officio Secretary to the government, said rapid and unthinking privatisation was not desirable, but that it should be done in a well-researched manner. He cited maintenance as an example and recommended that it should be outsourced to the private sector. On the other hand, customised solutions should be considered to facilitate smoother freight movement, such as special-purpose wagons meeting specific industry requirements. OP Mishra, a delegate from Tata Steel, pointed out that as a transport system, the cost that Indian Railways incurs is one of the highest in the world, so the focus should be on making it viable.

Speakers debated viability from various angles. For example, they pointed out that it is only because of cross-subsidisation that container train operations were even making any money at all, although they are incurring losses. Commercialising rolling stock could help the Railways focus more on infrastructure and safety. Speakers critiqued the Railways’ practice of hiring out entire rakes, which they said reduces the efficiency.

Of the Rs 1 lakh crore proposed by the Anil Kakodkar Commission for Railway Safety, Rs 50,000 crore would go into creating “grade separators”—creating underpasses and overbridges. Acharya critiqued this allocation, reminding policymakers that since Railways has the right-of-way (ROW) over roads, Indian Railways should not take responsibility of implementing this mammoth task; rather, states can do so.

Railway engineers, policymakers and their representatives, construction and engineering contractors, financial institutions, investors, users of planned railway industrial development parks, supply chain managers from various industries including cement, coal and steel, rail contractors and consultants attended the conference.