World Bank has offered to give financial assistance to the last remaining portion of the Eastern Dedicated Freight Corridor (EDFC) between Sonnagar and Dankuni, which India is originally slated to construct in Public-Private Partnership (PPP) mode. The DFC has also got the green signal from Railways to allow private freight trains in its corridors, if companies come forward with such propositions.
World Bank’s interest in funding the 528-km stretch Bihar’s Sonnagar and West Bengal’s Dankuni of the corridor has now presented Indian Railways with the option to do course correction and go for financial assistance in the form of a viability gap funding or carry on as planned and invite players to bring in the capital. The entire EDFC is being built with a loan from World Bank, except for the last portion, between Bihar and West Bengal.
The project documents detailing the PPP model for the stretch has gone to the Finance Ministry’s PPP Appraisal Committee which vets all such projects in government.
“World Bank has offered (financial assistance) to us, because the project is very viable. But we have sent documents to the PPPAC as well. We will take a call,” Anurag Sachan, Managing Director of Dedicated Freight Corridor Corporation Limited (DFCCIL) said Friday.
“We will be floating Request for Qualification for private players to come forward. Now we have this choice of going for the World Bank assistance as well,” he said adding that private players have indicated that financial closure of something like Rs 9,000 crore for, say, a stretch like Sonnagar to Gomoh, on their own might be difficult.
World Bank’s Senior Transport Specialist Atul Agarwal said that this was a way for the bank to facilitate private players in the project. “Of course, the proposal has to formally come from the government. But what we have said is that we would be open to facilitating entry of private players in the project through viability gap funding. It is a good effort and we would be willing to help in whatever way we can,” he told The Indian Express.
The DFC, after renewed push from the Modi government for its completion, is looking at completing the project by December 2021. As a means to utilize the huge capacity being created in the two corridors, the Railway ministry has given the nod to the company to accommodate private freight trains as well and levy track access charges. Unlike passenger trains, private freight trains is not new as there are several private container train operators in India.
“We will allow private freight trains in a non-discriminatory way. A regulator will decide the various conditions,” Sachan said outlining the future of what is billed as the biggest infrastructure project in independent India. “There is the automobile sector, containers and others. We will also offer time-tabled freight service to e-commerce companies, like Amazon and Flipkart etc. The idea is that the huge capacity that we are building should not go underutilised,” he said.
The DFCs would run long-haul freight trains, each around 1.5 km long carrying 13000 tons of freight. It will run 120 such trains each way every day at 100 km per hour. The current speed of freight trains in India is around 25 km per hour.
This is because as per estimates by the DFCCIL, it has the capacity to bring in an additional 163 million tonnes of freight into the rail sector within two years after its commissioning and the subsequently the modal share of railways in freight movement is expected to go up subsequently, its projections say.
The 1856 km Eastern Dedicated Freight Corridor between Ludhiana in Punjab and Dankuni will be controlled seamlessly from the world’s second largest train control centre with a 90 meter video wall. This is second only to China’s train control centre in Shanghai to control 10,000 km of its high speed network. Prime Minister Narendra Modi might inaugurate this facility on February 29 along with other projects when he is in Allahabad next week, officials said.
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