Budget 2024: Here’s what to expect for Indian Railways
4 min read • Updated: January 25, 2024, 7:28 PM
It is widely being expected that Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman would significantly increase capital allocation for the Indian Railways during the Interim Budget for 2024-25.
Experts estimate that budgetary allocation for railways is expected to hit record levels of more than ₹3 lakh crore during 2024-25, an increase of 25% over the previous year.
Indian Railways had quite an eventful year in 2023-24. From the inauguration of multiple new Vande Bharat trains across the country along with the new no-frills Amrit Bharat Express to the deadly train disaster in Odisha that claimed around 300 lives, the railways sector saw it all this year.
Given this backdrop, it is widely being expected that Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman would significantly increase capital allocation for the Indian Railways during the Interim Budget for 2024-25.
The Finance Minister, in fact, had raised the outlay for railways last year as well to ₹2.40 lakh crore for 2023-24 compared to ₹1.40 lakh crore in 2022-23. She had highlighted that this was nine times the amount provided in 2013-2014.
For this year, experts estimate that budgetary allocation for railways is expected to hit record levels of more than ₹3 lakh crore during 2024-25, an increase of 25% over the previous year.
This increased allocation would aim for the modernisation of Indian Railways with faster trains, renovated railway stations, improved safety features and development of freight corridors.
Infrastructure and safety measures likely to get a boost
One of the major focus areas for the Indian Railways would be rolling out of the planned 300-400 Vande Bharat trains in different categories over the coming years, including the one with sleeper coaches. As of January 2024, Indian Railways was operating 41 Vande Bharat Express trains, covering 82 train numbers across 15 zones.
Railway Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw had also announced that the speed of Vande Bharat trains would soon be enhanced gradually. Speaking in the Lok Sabha, the minister said that safety fencing will be installed at vulnerable locations to enable the trains to operate at speeds ranging from 110 kmph to 130 kmph.
Currently, the average running speed of Vande Bharat trains ranges 63-96 kilometres per hour due to restrictions related to signalling, track infrastructure, and fencing.
This brings to the need of enhanced safety measures that would likely be another major focus area for the railway budget this year.
According to reports, the safety budget of the railways is expected to be almost doubled for 2024-25 to help the government accomplish its Mission Zero Accidents faster. Notably, the safety budget has remained stagnant for the past two years at around ₹11,000 crore.
In 2023-24, the national transporter received flak for several incidents of derailments of rail carriages along with the devastating Balasore train accident in Odisha.
In June 2023, a potential signal failure led to a three-way train collision in the Balasore district in Odisha that killed hundreds in one of the worst train disasters ever seen by the country. After the accident, there was renewed pressure on the government to decongest the Indian Railways and make it safer with wider adoption of the anti-train collision system, or Kavach (as named by the government).
Besides that, a significant amount of capital is also likely to be allocated for the recently launched Amrit Bharat Station Scheme that aims to enhance and modernize railway stations throughout the Indian Railways network.
The scheme currently intends to upgrade and modernize a total of 1,275 stations across the Indian Railway system. It involves creating Master Plans and executing them in phases to enhance various station facilities.
Experts would also be watching out for capital outlay for the proposed India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor (IMEC). The project would connect India, Middle East and Europe through a comprehensive transportation network of rail, road and sea routes.
With such a long pending list at hand, all eyes will be on FM Sitharaman whether she would loosen the purse strings for Indian Railways in the Interim Budget on February 1.