The Railways’ two big ticket projects — the Dedicated Freight Corridor and the bullet train project — aimed at a modal shift in rail operations in the country will not be delayed despite the coronavirus crisis, Railway Board Chairman VK Yadav said today.
His statement comes at a time when most infrastructure projects in the country are facing delays due to the lockdown, coupled with the paucity of labour and the economic slump.
The Rs 81,000 crore Dedicated Freight Corridor, which is the Railways” single-largest developmental project currently underway, consists of the Eastern DFC, a 1,839-km freight line from Ludhiana in Punjab to Dankuni near Kolkata, West Bengal, and the 1483-km WDFC or western corridor connecting India”s capital Delhi and its economic hub Mumbai.
According to latest data provided by DFCCIL on Wednesday, the agency has completed 56 per cent of its contractual work on WDFC and 60 per cent on EDFC.
The agency said 99 percent of the required land has been acquired. The completion of the project, scheduled for December 2021, is set to decongest the Railway network by moving around 70 percent of goods trains to these corridors.
“It was a very good decision on part of the DFCCIL (Dedicated Freight Corridor Corporation of India Limited) to keep their labourers in camps around the worksite and providing them with basic amenities thus ensuring that not many of them returned home. This way the work has not stopped, only slowed down a bit, and since there is still time till December 2021 (the deadline), I expect we will not be delayed,” Mr Yadav said.
According to the DFCCIL, they had around 40,000 workers at their worksites in Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra which primarily was reduced to around 15,000 workers during the lockdown leading to a slowdown in its work. Its managing director wrote to the states, requesting them to ensure that workers are allowed to move from the camps to the worksites, even arranging e passes for them. The agency also hired locals to supplement the workers available with them.
Now, DFCCIL is also facilitating the movement of its labourers back to the worksite on trains and buses and in the last month has brought around 7,000 highly trained workmen back from Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal. The latest tally, officials say is around 22,000 workers at the DFC units.
The completion of the DFC and the resultant decongestion of the railway network is also essential for the beginning of the 151 private train services in April 2023.
“By the time the private trains begin operations, we would have completed all our infrastructure work. We are doing a lot of infrastructure work of doubling and tripling which would address the congestion issues that these trains might face,” he said when asked about the congestion on the trunk routes.
The other much awaited project — the Mumbai-Ahmedabad high speed corridor — which has a deadline of December 2023 has had to contend with issues ranging from protests by landowners and rising cost of the project due to the widening gap between the Indian rupee and the Japanese yen, as 80% of the Rs 1 trillion needed to fund the project will come from a 20-year Japan International Cooperation Agency (Jica) loan. The project is being implemented by the National High-Speed Rail Corporation (NHSRCL).
The agency which provided the latest status report of the project to PTI, said it has floated 68 per cent of its civil works tenders covering 345 kms out of 508 kms along with a separate tender for fabrication of 28 steel bridges for the high speed corridor in Maharashtra.
While the joint measurement survey of the land required for the project is almost on the verge of completion, the agency has acquired 60 per cent land needed for the project ( about 77% land in Gujarat, 80% in Dadar Nagar Haveli and 22% in Maharashtra), according to the NHSRCL.
“In the bullet train project on the other hand, physical work is still to begin. However, the tendering process is on and land acquisition is presently underway,” Mr Yadav said.
A pre-bid meeting to solve bidders’ query was also arranged during the lockdown period through video conferencing. Mr Yadav said while the Railways’ revenue from passenger traffic has been affected due to the pandemic, freight loading will enhance its earnings by the year end.
“Due to the fact that passenger trains are off the network, there is a lot of track available for freight trains. This year, freight traffic will be 50 per cent more than last years thereby enhancing the Railways’ earnings despite the pandemic. During the lockdown and even currently we are working on our infrastructure to ensure that we remove bottle necks. We have utilised this opportunity to finish 200 of our pending works and utilised the opportunity for multi-tracking, doubling,” he said.