INDIAN Railways’ plans to modernise and expand will have to be reined in. Sanctions in the wake of the country’s detonation of atomic bombs earlier this year look likely to force the abandonment or deferral of numerous projects as credit agencies withdraw funding.

No surprise then that a parliamentary committee has called for IR to cut operating costs by 10% in the next five years and withdraw from ancillary activities to concentrate on its core business of running trains. The committee also made a familiar call for cultural change among management and staff so that they focus on their customers and their needs rather than simply running trains.

Earlier, Minister of Railways Nitish Kumar had told IR that no new projects should be started, and that emphasis should switch to finishing schemes already begun but not yet complete. He blamed his predecessors for approving ’projects on political considerations [but] providing only token funds for them’. It is not clear whether the huge gauge conversion programme will continue, but a comment from IR Chariman V K Agarwal in July suggests that metre gauge lines will be modernised. He said the annual spend available for gauge conversion was only Rs80m, although the need was for Rs1bn. If the programme is abandoned, IR would be left with the worst of both worlds - having severed the metre gauge network so that it no longer forms a coherent whole, isolated pockets will survive in a sea of broad gauge. o