100 days project: Railways gear up for connecting Kashmir, introducing Vande Bharat sleeper trains

Connecting rest of India with Kashmir and inaugurating the Chenab (Rail) Bridge, introduction of Vande Bharat sleeper trains for overnight travel, and a minimum of 20 per cent increase in Vande Bharat routes prominently feature as part of the 100-day plan that the Railway Ministry is preparing for the ‘new government’.  

On the passenger services front, discussions are on for faster refund of cancelled tickets. Generally refunds happen to source over a three – seven working day period. 

The other major thrust area include ramping up safety measures, while work on improving speed of passenger train services continues. 

Vande Bharat – the top priority 

“One of the top priorities is rolling out of Vande Bharat sleeper trains. Unlike their chair-based counterparts, these as the name suggest have  sleeping facilities. And are designed specifically for overnight travel. The Integral Coach Factory is already working on the train models,” a senior Railway official said. 

Some of the key features include 16 bogies – majority being AC 3-tier, followed by AC 2-tier and one or two AC 1st class compartments. 

There would 820-830 berths for passengers. These berths would be wider when compared to existing ones on Indian Railways now. The trains would reach a maximum speed of 160 km per hour. 

In a post on X (formerly Twitter) Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw, had said these trains would be introduced “in  early 2024”. 

More Vande Bharat train routes are also on the cards. There are 51 pairs (102 trains) which are already operational, and over the next few months the plan would be to “add 20 per cent more on the existing routes.”

This apart, there are plans to make operational the test track of Vande Bharat trains, specially the ones that are being designed for the narrow gauge lines. 

Connecting Kashmir 

According to officials, Railways are speeding up connectivity projects in Kashmir. 

Inaugurating the Chenab Rail Bridge – which is 35 metres higher than the Eiffel Tower, thereby making it the highest railway bridge – will help link sections of the mountainous region.  

The Railways have also identified the ₹37,000 crore Udhampur-Srinagar-Baramula Rail Link (USBRL) another such big ticket project to be ready. While travel to Katra in Jammu via Indian Railways do happen at present, the Udhampur – Srinagar – Baramulla link will add to further connectivity.

“This initiative is expected to enhance connectivity and stimulate economic growth in Jammu and Kashmir. The connectivity projects should be through by August or September,” another official told businessline

Push for Safer Travel 

Railway officials have also been asked to work on enhancing safety measures. Accordingly investments are being made towards construction of Road Over Bridges and Road Under Bridges. “This will eliminate manned level crossings, a known safety hazard,” an official said. 

From 2014-2023, a staggering 11,945 bridges and underpasses were completed, as  compared to 4,148 ROB/RUB built between 2004 and 2014.

“Going forward this will be another focus area to ensure idling time of vehicles are reduced and there is faster movement of traffic,” the official said. 

Work is also on to increase the speed of passenger trains.

The average speed of mail/express trains increased from 50.6 kmph in 2019-20 to 51.1 kmph in 2023-24 (till November), as per data shared in the Rajya Sabha. The average speed of ordinary trains also improved from 33.5 kmph in 2019-20 to 35.1 kmph in 2023-24. 

“Improvements are being carried out in the New Delhi-Mumbai and New Delhi-Howrah routes of the Golden Quadrilateral in the first phase so that trains run faster here. This also features under the 100-day program,” the official said.

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