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India prepares for railway expansion By Shilpa Kannan Business reporter, BBC World, Delhi India's railways tie together the vast nation In a country where hundreds of millions of people still live on less than one dollar a day, the trains provide a lifeline, both as a means of transport and because the railways are the largest employer in India.
India has the world's largest railway network. There are more than five billion passenger journeys on the railways each year. But although the system is big already, the Indian government is expected to increase India's rail routes while keeping ticket prices intact as it announces the railway budget on Tuesday.
Union Railway minister Lalu Prasad Yadav has long been trying to spare passengers by tapping into other sources of revenue within the railway system. At the same time, he has brought about a dramatic financial turnaround, increasing freight revenue by beginning the construction of dedicated routes between the major cities in the country.
But whereas last year freight was the focus of the railway budget, this year Mr Yadav is expected to focus on using the large land bank the railways owns to make money. Difficult journeys With more than 7, stations, it is estimated that India's railways has more than 45, hectares of land that could be developed.
We can afford only rail tickets so we travel by train Aleem Khan Take New Delhi station, in the heart of the city's business district. With more thanpeople using it every day, the New Delhi station is in desperate need of a makeover.
Open sewerage, leaking pipes, and overflowing dustbins are a common sight. Passengers have to wade through platforms teeming with passengers to get to their trains.
As Mr Khan haggles with a porter to carry his bags, his wife Rabia Begum holds on tightly to their two children, four-year-old Maria and year-old Ramsha. The Khans are going back to their village in Uttar Pradesh after a holiday in Delhi. Though the tickets are relatively cheap, the eight-hour journey is not easy, says Mr Khan.
We have to pay money for drinking water and we cannot afford that. I wish the facilities were better. Airports are for rich people. Railway stations are for people like me who are poor Ram Kishen, porter Major construction firms - including GMR, DLF and Reliance - are queuing up as there is plenty of prime real estate up for grabs.
British firm Terry Farrell and Partners has been hired by the railway ministry to re-design the station. Stefan Krummeck, its main architect, says that the station is spread over 86 hectares of land, which they hope to integrate back into the city. The plan is to separate arrivals and departures areas on different levels, the way it is done at airports, with additional levels for waiting areas.
Escalators will be provided to connect all the levels to the platforms. Mr Krummeck says new stations will offer many benefits Tracks will be widened, enabling a switch to faster and bigger trains that can speed up the passenger flow.
But it is neither cheap nor easy to upgrade stations which are used by more than 14 million passengers every day. The Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India says the railway minister should scale up commercial operations at additional railway stations to help generate the money.
Winner and losers But although many will gain as the stations are kitted out with food plazas, escalators and shopping malls, others stand to lose.
Ram Kishen, 45, has been working in the Delhi railway station for over ten years.The latest BBC Business News: breaking personal finance, company, financial and economic news, plus insight and analysis into UK and global markets. India Business Report provides an indispensable guide to the big stories to watch out for 27/03/ GMT An indispensable guide to the big stories to watch out for in the week ahead.
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