Chennai: The railway board (RB) recently shelved 13 new railway line construction projects worth Rs 9,500 crore in Tamil Nadu.
The projects include a 10-year proposal to construct a new line between Chennai and Sriperumbudur through Saidapet and a connection between Kancheepuram and Katpadi through Tiruvannamalai. The official reason given by the railway board for not implementing these projects is that they are unremunerative and there is already a large shelf of ongoing projects.
For instance, except two projects in the list, all others have a negative rate of return (ROR), which means that Railways will lose money by operating passenger trains on the route.
Railways earn money through freight traffic, which has low potential in Tamil Nadu due to lack of extensive mineral resources or high industrialisation like in other states, say officials.
However, highly placed sources in Southern Railway say that ROR might not be the only reason, given that every new railway project in Tamil Nadu has a negative ROR. This includes the Trivandrum-Kanyakumari doubling project, which was cleared by the Cabinet recently. The project has a ROR of -2%.
Railway board rules state that only those projects should be sanctioned which have a ROR of 14%. But by that logic, no project will give returns. Socio-economic factors should be considered when projects are executed.
Railways is losing out passenger and freight traffic to roads which are developing at a faster rate,” said Abraham Jacob, former chief operations manager (COM) of SR and additional member of RB.
The Chennai-Sriperumbudur project was envisaged when Jacob was COM and he had planned to capture the freight traffic from automobile industries in the Sriperumbudur-Kancheepuram belt as well as create a double line through the Saidapet-Koyambedu stretch.
The line now cannot be executed as it has been used by Tamil Nadu government to build broad highways, Jacob says. Due to this, traffic from railways, both passenger and freight, is moving towards roads despite higher costs.
This is an example of how lack of support from the state government has resulted in a railway project not taking off, says Jacob. Senior railway officials echoed this, stating that RB will green-light unremunerative projects only if the state pumps in half the project cost and also helps in land acquisition.
“TN is yet to sign a MoU with Railways to share project costs despite multiple reminders,” said a senior railway official.