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Finance to upgrade, World Bank offers plan for Railway expansion

The World Bank has outlined the role it can play in financing its ambitious national rail plan over the next 30 years, which provides for nearly 8,000 km of high-speed corridors and an additional 8,000 km of dedicated freight corridors (DFCs), with funds to the tune of Rs 40 lakh crore.

The World Bank’s top executive shared its vision for the railways and what it proposes during a presentation to Railways Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw and other top executives last week.

The National Rail Plan and the National Infrastructure Pipeline recommend a total of 13 bullet train corridors across India, including the Mumbai-Ahmedabad corridors under construction. They are on routes like Mumbai-Nagpur, Hyderabad-Bengaluru, Varanasi-Patna, Patna-Kolkata, Delhi-Udaipur, Delhi-Chandigarh-Amritsar, Nagpur-Varanasi, Amritsar-Pathankot-Jammu, Chennai-Mysuru via Bengaluru, Mumbai-Hyderabad , and Varanasi-Delhi via Ayodhya. However, there is no clarity on how to fund them, or the new DFCs.

The Bank has provided its expertise ranging from the implementation of partnerships with private players to the development of intermodal stations and the upgrading of existing lines. “The aim is to build 8,000 km of DFC and 8,000 km of high-speed line in 30 years. How do you pay?” the presentation poses, with the solution ‘World Bank interventions’.

The presentation, seen by The Sunday Express, provides for “open access” in future DFCs and commercial financing of the country’s freight infrastructure within three years, through “asset recycling”, “bond issuance” etc.

In passenger services, the Bank proposes a PPP partnership in the development of new high-speed routes and the commuter rail network.

A spokesman for World Bank India did not respond to questions about the meeting.

Once developed, the commuter networks will attract higher-income passengers, the notes, while traffic on freight corridors would increase by 20%. Together, according to the presentation, the measures would reduce Indian Railways’ share of the infrastructure cost of ownership by $6.5 billion, ultimately helping the Dedicated Freight Corridor Corporation Limited to fund the expansion of its network.

Currently, the 508 km high-speed railway line from Mumbai to Ahmedabad is being built with a loan from the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), while in the eastern part of India and from JICA in the west.

As part of the national commitment to CO2 reduction, the share of railways in freight transport should increase from the current 27% to 45% by 2030.

Officials noted that investment from the private sector and financial institutions is key to the plan’s success, and the World Bank’s pitch is being viewed in that context.

Sources also pointed out that it would ultimately come down to specific numbers on how much the World Bank is willing to fund. “Global financial institutions have a limit on the exposure they can have in one sector, in a country or even a region,” said an official.

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