Guwahati: Meghalaya on Saturday came on the country's rail map more than six decades after independence, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi flagging off the first train to the northeastern state and favouring privatisation of railway stations.
"Railway facilities are the same as they were 100 years back.... Privatise the railway stations and modernise them," he said after flagging off the first train linking Meghalaya.
"I will make it in 10-12 places. Stations should be better than airports as most travellers are poor people. We can easily have trains running below and commercial properties above (floor)," Modi reasoned.
At a time when real estate is very expensive, railway should leverage its properties by allowing private parties to build luxury hotels, restaurants and other facilities, he added.
He said once this exercise is completed in these places, the government will carry out modernisation of stations across the country.
The Prime Minister today inaugurated the Mendipathar- Guwahati passenger train and laid the foundation stone of broad gauge conversion of Bhairabi-Sairang line in Mizoram.
Modi said the Indian Railways have the potential to become the backbone of the country's economic activity.
"We will not be happy in just adding one coach or upgrading one station. We want both horizontal and vertical development of the railways. It can become the engine of Indian economy," he added.
The government has already allowed 100 per cent foreign direct investment to completely modernise the railway transportation in the country, he said.
Modi said the government has decided to open four railway universities in the four corners of the country where all aspects of railway service will be taught.
He said railway can be a mode of eco-friendly mass transportation, which will be India's contribution to contain global warming.
Talking about connectivity to North-East, Modi said: "Infrastructure is the most important factor to develop North- East. If we want to develop India, we have to develop North East."
Giving example of good roads in South Korea, he said India, particularly this region, should have better connectivity to leverage its potential.
"The upper middle class in India wants to go for visiting places once or twice a year. They keep searching for good places. If we have good connectivity, then they will come to North-East as it is full of natural beauty and lovely people.
"Once infrastructure is developed, rest all will be done by the public," Modi said.
The Prime Minister also favoured connecting North-East digitally by installing optical fibre network so that people in remotest area can also avail all facilities of the cyber world.
"We have to take forward 'Look Act Policy'. We have 'Look East Policy' and now we will have 'Act East Policy'. North East will be the centre of development," he added.