India Inc may add steam to save railway heritage assets

The railway wants to get private players to help it preserve its heritage assets like the SBI Foundation is doing at Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus in Mumbai
The 160-year-old Indian Railways legacy will get on to a new track, as plans for a special purpose vehicle (SPV) gain traction. The proposed SPV between ministries of railway, culture and tourism would have the mandate to preserve the national transporter’s heritage assets and also raise funds from the private sector to manage these.

According to a proposal that the Railway Board is looking at, the assets will be transferred to the management committee of the SPV. Also, the SPV will engage with the corporate sector and experts to manage the assets. There are plans to monetise these properties as well for non-fare revenue generation.

The railways have a wide spectrum of both tangible and intangible heritage including Unesco-accorded sites such as Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, Nilgiri Mountain Railway, Kalka Shimla Railway and Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus in Mumbai. “With Matheran Light Railway and Kangra Valley Railway too likely to get World Heritage status soon, the board and Railway Minister Piyush Goyal are keen to bring in more private sector participation,’’ said an official. The idea is to do something similar to what SBI Foundation is doing at Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus or IOC is doing at Konark to safeguard those assets, he added. The Board is studying a concept note on the proposed SPV.

Currently, the railway spends about Rs 250-300 crore annually to maintain and manage the heritage assets.

The ministry will set up independent managements or trusts with dedicated directors for each of these World Heritage sites to speed up decision making. Such a set-up will also help in tourism orientation and preservation of coaches and locomotives.

“These managements can engage experts and also source money through market funding, apart from government support. Currently, only a few global railways like the UK and Australia have a dedicated heritage preservation strategy,” he added.

At present, the Indian Railways maintain 34 museums, heritage parks and heritage galleries across India. It has also preserved about 230 steam locomotives, 110 vintage coaches and wagons at prominent places including museums and heritage parks. In addition, it has a large repository of built heritage including 25 bridges and 70 buildings.

Goyal and his team are in talks with the Google Cultural Institute (GCI) as well for providing virtual tours of the museum and forming digital repository of Railways’  heritage assets for online access, free of cost. The institute was launched in 2011 to digitally preserve cultural documents.

Google is set to include Rewari Steam Locomotive Shed and Rail Museum as well as assets such as mountain railways, bridges, buildings and artefacts in the virtual tour. If things go as per plan, by 2025, all heritage assets should be available online.

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