Two years ago a group under Sam Pitroda, appointed by railways, showed that modernising is doable in a span of a few years. It requires a sharp focus on how less than half of existing tracks bear about 80% of traffic. This modernisation project would encompass tracks, bridges and signals, thereby simultaneously improving safety standards.
Gowda’s challenge would be to raise resources for a modernisation project. It is important that he forcefully communicates that the prevailing tendency to use railways’ profit from freight to provide passengers’ subsidies does not eventually help society — in an indirect way, this actually prevents creation of jobs. For instance, China’s freight rates are just 58% of India’s and that makes it tough for Indian industry to successfully compete and create jobs at home. Gowda hopes to usher FDI into creating infrastructure for railways. This makes sense. But unless the organisation manages its finances better and takes hard-headed decisions on modernisation, it is unlikely to attract money from outside.