Rail Budget focuses on premium amenities, speedier trains, safety

Rail Budget focuses on premium amenities, speedier trains, safety

Rail Budget focuses on premium amenities, speedier trains, safety

Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu’s second budget presented in Parliament on Thursday sought to make the passenger “feel like a King” by proposing premium facilities and speedy trains, while tapping new sources of revenue beyond tariff and also cutting the overall cost of operation.

While leaving passenger fares or freight charges untouched, the minister’s plan for added passenger experience included  reserved accommodation on demand, better coaches and quality food. Likewise, he proposed better carrier facilities for commercial users to transport goods, perhaps at a price later. Speeding up various projects was also on the agenda.

He also proposed a slew of customer-oriented services like smarter ticketing, a clean-my-coach service through SMS, automatic doors, baby-sitting facilities including hot water and milk at stations, a kids’ menu, disabled-enabled toilets, and 33% reservation for women within the reserved quota in catering services.  
“Every customer is our brand ambassador... Dignity of passengers, speed of trains and progress of nation are themes of this budget,” he added.

The minister announced three new superfast trains, including ‘Humsafar’  — fully air-conditioned 3AC service with option of meals. ‘Tejas’ will showcase the future of train travel with speeds up to 130 km per hour with onboard services such as entertainment, local cuisine and Wi-Fi.

Prabhu said the two trains will ensure cost recovery through tariff and non-tariff measures, while ‘Uday’ will be an overnight double-decker along with ‘Utkrishit’ double-decker air-conditioned yatri express on the busiest routes.

To improving quality of travel for unreserved passengers, superfast ‘Antyodya’ would be introduced. ‘Deen Dayalu’ unreserved coaches with potable water and higher number of mobile charging points would also be introduced. In all, 65,000 additional berths in trains would be made available soon.

As for ease in undertaking a journey, the Railways will introduce more Automatic Ticket Vending Machines and increase the capacity of e-ticketing system from 2,000 tickets per minute to 7,200 tickets per minute to support 1,20,000 concurrent users as against  40,000 earlier.

The sale of short-distance tickets will be through hand held terminals and e-ticketing facility will cover foreign debit/credit cards, bar coded tickets to check ticketless travel, and facility of cancellation through the ‘139’ helpline by using ‘One Time Password’ sent on registered phone number. Prabhu also announced Wi-Fi facilities for 100 stations this year.  As for better quality catering, Prabhu said people will have a choice of local food, and baby-food, hot water and hot milk would be available under Janani Seva.

Several measures for disabled and senior citizens would be put in place, including reservation of 50 per cent lower berths for senior citizens. Prabhu also promised “Sarathi Seva” to help the old and disabled passengers at stations.

Announcing big ticket measures for cleanliness, the minister said that 17,000 bio-toilets will be installed at 475 stations. Passengers’ security will be enhanced through more helplines and CCTVs.

For addressing the punctuality issue, Prabhu declared an operations audit would be undertaken from Ghaziabad to Mughalsarai section, which is one of the most congested tracks of Indian Railways.

Prabhu announced plans to eliminate all unmanned level crossings by 2020, electrify 2000-km rail line next year and increase electrification budget by 50 per cent.
As for enhancing business for the railways, India's first rail auto hub will be created in Chennai to woo freight traffic from the automobile industry.

Prabhu also pledged the completion of three freight corridors by 2019, namely, the north-south, east-west and east coast  corridors, connectivity to North-East and Wi-Fi in railway stations.

According to Prabhu, the railways was poised to commission 7 km of broad gauge lines every day in this year as against an average of 4.3 km. Port connectivity and North East connectivity to be a priority. Mizoram and Manipur to be brought under broad gauge soon.

Prabhu did not mince words in admitting a slowdown in growth of passenger and freight revenues, which has put heavy pressure on the railways' finances. Railways would get Rs 40,000 crore budgetary support from the government as the loss on subsidising passenger fares is Rs 30,000 crore.

Prabhu said railways land will be given for plantation and horticulture to weaker sections of the society. He has proposed revenue generation by developing stations for various commercial activities, including advertising. He has also proposed exploring generation of revenue from selling IT data on passenger preferences, running of trains and other information.

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