It was 3:35pm on 16th April, 1853 when India flagged off its first passenger train from Bombay’s Bori Bunder to Thane with 400 people on-board. Indian Railways has seen a lot and has developed since then to become one of the largest rail networks of the world.
When it comes to an emotional connect, India is glued by an adhesive called Bollywood and Cricket but the physical connection is quite literally done by the Indian Railways. Millions of people use the railway network daily across the nation. Hence it won’t be wrong to say that the railway is the lifeline of the Indian middle-class.
The web of Indian Railways network is spread across 115,000 km of track over a route of 65,000 km with 7,500 stations and ferries more than 25 million passengers daily. It is quite a mammoth task to handle such a business.
The issues like proper infrastructure, safety, fares and more need to be answered and answered very clearly. Hence, every year, all eyes are fixed on the Railway Minister’s budget speech waiting to know what is new in this year’s budget.
This year too, Mr Minister will have to fulfil a lot of expectations of the aam aadmi. With Mamta Banerjee no longer holding the railway’s command, let us take a look at major expectations from Rail Budget 2013-14.Fares- Freight/Passenger Train:
After the Trinamool Congress break up with the UPA government, Congress appointed its member Pawan Kumar Bansal as country’s Railway Minister. Mr Bansal came and the first big thing he did was to bite the bullet and hike the rail fares — first in over a decade.
The fare hike is expected to mop up an additional Rs 6,600 crore annually for the government. The proposals will rake in an additional Rs 1200 crore between January 21 and March 31 this year. Hopefully, another hike announcement is not expected in this year's Rail Budget.
However, after the hike in diesel prices, freight tariff is likely to be increased in the Budget, as the railways will only net an additional Rs 2700 cr annually.
According to reports, Rail Tariff Authority, which would be entrusted with the responsibility of restructuring the passenger fares as well as freight charges, will be announced this year.New Trains:
Every year we expect to hear the announcement of new trains in Rail Budget. Hence 2013-14 is also no exception.
In fact, Railway Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal in a meeting had already told the press that focusing on the better railway facilities in the nation, equal attention will be given to the rail projects in various parts of the country.
He said, “Only such railway projects, which can be fulfilled by the Indian Railways, will be incorporated in Union Railway Budget 2013-14”. The minister added that no region will be given special attention.Passenger Amenities:
Modernisation is the mantra of the Railways. With modernisation of the railway system, passenger amenities will get a major boost. This year’s Rail Budget is expected to bring some facility for the passengers for an easy and hassle free rail journey.
As the need for modernisation and technological upgrade cannot be over-emphasised, a report by the Expert Group for the modernisation of Indian Railways stated that the railways requires Rs 560,000 crore over the next five years. It remains to be seen how the railways manages to generate revenue for the same.
Giving special recognition to 100 stations for running special cleanliness campaign is expected in Budget 2013-14. Several other facilities like blankets, pillows and quilts will be provided to rail passengers.Safety:
Safety has always been a major concern of the Indian railways. Making train travel safer for the millions of people for whom air travel is not an option is a much-needed requirement. Earlier Rail Ministers had rued over lack of finances for not being able to meet the modernisation targets. But with the decision to increase the fares can we expect a Rail Budget with a major focus on safety?
Basic issues of safety in the current system need to be addressed immediately. And with the increasing crime against women, special emphasis have to be given on ensuring safety for women and handicapped passengers.Special Trains:
We are looking forward to special trains and trains that will connect far flung states with remote areas.
Private investment for projects like freight corridor, high speed trains and other expansions is expected this year.
Doubling of rail lines and electrification of major railway lines and railway projects are expected in Rail Budget 2013.
Besides, the Indian Railways has planned to have bullet train corridors having top speed of over 300 km per hour.Rail Food:
Train food has been going from bad to worse every year. Despite of many proposals to better meals on wheels, the state of affairs remains quite dismal.
One expects better food facility in express trains like Rajdhani and Shatabdi and also in other express trains.
Reportedly, this year’s budget will announce new tenders to be issued for the construction of modern base kitchens.Miscellaneous:
This year’s budget would like to see some more stringent actions against agencies/individuals who are involved in illegally hoarding train tickets and touts.
Tatkal service also needs a re-look in terms of online booking. Infrastructure of the online reservation system needs an overhauling. A serious rail traveller would expect that a rail website doesn’t go haywire while booking tatkal tickets, whereas touts easily make their way getting the same.
Wage hike for employees, pending projects and improvements in the provision of basic facilities to the railway passengers are also on the list.
First Published: Sunday, January 27, 2013, 18:06