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Rail Bhavan to weed out uneconomic branch lines

Rabindra Nath Sinha

KOLKATA, April 3

UNECONOMIC branch lines have for years been a drag on the resources of the Railways. But at last Rail Bhavan has initiated decisive steps to tackle this problem.

Significantly, the Railways in a bid to enlist the cooperation of the States are prepared to offer them financial assistance so that they overcome their reluctance on the closure/dismantling of uneconomic branch lines.

What is the initiative of Rail Bhavan? It has already issued instructions for closure/dismantling of 21 uneconomic branch lines.

Several high-level committees had unanimously recommended that those uneconomic branch lines, where alternative modes of transport exist or can be developed should be closed down so as to reduce, to the extent possible, the losses that the Railways incur on them year after year.

The Railway Reforms Committee (RRC) in Part XI of its report on `Economies' (October 1983) had recommended that (i) 40 branch lines where adequate alternative road infrastructure is available and (ii) 17 branch lines in Gujarat where it would be possible to develop alternative road network should be closed down. In cases where the State Government do not agree for closure ``for their own reasons'' should share the losses with the Railways on 50:50 basis.

Of the 21 uneconomic branch lines now to be closed down, 15 are out of the 40 identified in the different parts of the country except Gujarat and four are out of 17 identified in Gujarat. In addition, two other lines have been identified. Which means that out of the total 57 lines recommended for closure by RRC in 1983, a decision remains to be made in respect of the remaining 38 lines.

What is a branch line? As determined by the Uneconomic Branch Lines Committee, 1969, all narrow gauge (NG) lines and such of the broad gauge (BG) and meter gauge (MG) lines that join the main line network at one end only are reckoned as branch lines. According the Explanatory Memorandum forming part of the Railway Budget for 2003-04, a review of such lines in 2001-02 indicated that 115 of them (46 BG, 45 MG and 24 NG) were uneconomical and the Railways incurred a loss of about Rs.434 crore, ``excluding dividend'', on their operations.

It is thus seen that out of the total 57 lines recommended for closure by RRC in its report of 1983, a decision remains to be made in respect of 38 lines. Rail Bhavan is now keen to make the State Governments agree on their closure/dismantling. To that end, it is ready to offer financial assistance to the State thus:

* On one-time basis it will subsidise procurement of additional buses

* On one-time basis it will offer financial assistance for development/improvement of road infrastructure which, it accepts, has to be a pre-requisite for withdrawal of train services and

* It will offer railway embankments in respect of 13 lines in Gujarat for conversion into all-weather metalled road.

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