Railway Budget 2014: Highlights at a glance
Railways Minister Mallikarjun Kharge left train fares and freight rates unchanged on Wednesday, in an interim rail budget ahead of a national election due by May.
It wasn’t really a surprise. In 2012, Dinesh Trivedi was forced to resign as railways minister after his decision to raise passenger fares for the first time in eight years prompted a furious response from his own party — the Trinamool Congress — that was part of the Congress-led coalition government at the time.
The government did raise fares last year, this time with a Congressman at the helm of affairs, as a cash-strapped railways ministry tried to raise money to pay its employees.
But there was no repeat of that on Wednesday, as any hike in passenger fares would have run the risk of upsetting commuters in a crucial election year. The government limited itself to announcing some people-friendly measures without increasing fares.
Here are some of the key announcements for passengers travelling on the world’s fourth-largest railway network:
— More than 70 trains introduced, including 17 premium and 39 express trains.
— Updates on passenger name record (PNR) status via SMSes.
— Passenger services to Katra, near the popular Vaishno Devi shrine in Jammu and Kashmir, to start soon. Trial runs on the extended railway line from Udhampur are under way.
— Meghalaya and Itanagar (in Arunachal Pradesh) in India’s Northeast to be connected to rail network.
— Indian Railways to explore options to raise trains speeds to up to 200 kilometres an hour on trains to Agra and Chandigarh from India’s capital. A feasibility study for high-speed trains between Mumbai and Ahmedabad is already under way.
— An independent Rail Tariff Authority being set up to advise the government on fixing fares and freight rates, a step that would help rationalize fares in the coming years.
— System of passenger upgrades to be extended to second-class sitting, AC chair car and executive chair car.
— Online booking of retiring rooms at important railway stations.
— Online booking of meals on trains at several stations.
— Mobile phone ticketing to be started in the unreserved segment.
— Increasing the number of automatic ticket vending machines.
— Indian Railways considering proposal to allow foreign direct investment.
— ‘Green Curtains’ to be set up at railways stations in Agra and Jaipur as a pilot project, which would involve constructing a boundary wall and landscaping around railway tracks .
— Increasing the reach of a new bio-toilet design that has been introduced in about 2,500 coaches.
— Portable fire-extinguishers to be kept in railway coaches and induction-based cooking to be introduced in pantry cars.
— Train Collision Avoidance System (TCAS) and other improved safety systems to be introduced.