New Delhi: Metro Man’ E Sreedharan shows no signs of slowing down at 83 and thinks that railway minister Suresh Prabhu could do well to increase his pace of work and take some unpopular measures. While the Indian railways has been working on a high speed train for quite some time now, Sreedharan may just beat them to have the first train to run at 350 kmph in his home state Kerala by 2020.
He tells media that the Detailed Project Report (DPR) of the 550 km line between Thiruvananthpuram and Kannur will be ready by March 2016.
What do you think of the railways’ performance under the NDA regime?
There were high expectations from the new government. Railways do not seem to be taking off. The steps that were needed have not been taken.
Can you name some?
Railways cannot survive on borrowings. That is the tendency right now. Borrow from LIC. Borrow from World Bank. They have to return this money. The railways should mobilise resources and generate income. Passenger fares have to be increased and operating expenses reduced. Expenses can be brought down by as much as 35%.
How can it reduce operation costs?
Why should the railways be running an engineering institute like the one in Jamalpur? There are IITs and other institutes doing that job. Similarly, they should not be running schools either. Most importantly, the work culture in railways must change to improve productivity.
What do you think is preventing railways from doing unpopular things like increasing fares?
The political will to change is required. Nothing big has been done in railways since Madhavrao Scindia’s computerisation of reservations. That was the last big thing in railways, the last big idea.
What do you think of Suresh Prabhu’s efforts at garnering resources and funds?
He has started well but the pace has to increase. Borrowings are okay for the short term but there has to be a proper strategy to pay them back. The system cannot survive on that. Unpopular measures have to be taken. Fares need to be increased. Staff strength needs to be reduced. Railways are over-staffed. These are unpopular measures but it is a question of survival of the system. They cannot depend upon World Bank all the time for money. Passenger service has to be profitable. They cannot subsidise anymore.
Do you think enough safety measures are in place?
Money is definitely needed to make railways safer. But there are reports of various committees, the last one being the Kakodkar committee of which I was a member. We gave concrete suggestions about improving safety measures and also doing away with all railway crossings where accidents happen frequently. It again comes down to work culture. Overbridges have to be made to eliminate railway crossings and permissions and approvals are needed from the railways, and they take months and years to come.
What is the status of the high-speed train project in Kerala?
It is being executed by DMRC and a feasibility report is ready. A DPR is being prepared with the help of Korean and Japanese experts. It will be ready in March 2016. The distance of 550 km, between Thiruvananthpuram and Kannur, will be covered in two-and-half hours.
How do you think the Delhi Metro is doing now?
Expanding the metro network is good but the government has to take steps to stop proliferation of private vehicles. I don’t understand why the government is not taking any initiative. It should improve public transport and allow private operators to run bus services. There should be low floor, narrow, fuel efficient buses running on Indian roads, especially in the NCR. The government should allow private parties to ply buses, give them incentives and make it profitable for them. As incentives, the government can do away with registration tax and road tax which together account for 25% of the cost. Public transport scenario can change in one year in the Capital.