New Delhi: Made part of Union Budget last year, Railways remains a key sector and its budget will be presented by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley on February 1 once again. Historically, Railway Budget was presented separate from the main Budget but even though all of that changed in 2017, it is once again expected to attract maximum attention.
So, what are the major expectations for Railways from the upcoming Union Budget 2018? Get, set, go!
* Safety is of prime concern as there were a number of rail accidents. In the first few months of FY17 itself, as many as 48 died and another 188 injured in 48 train accidents. Therefore, safety is indeed likely to get the maximum attention in the Union Budget as well. The major expectation would be of better precautionary measures in place, improved infrastructure - both of trains and at the station, better facilities and better and technologically advanced warning systems. The Indian Railways is already planning to use GPS based navigation systems to reduce delays and accidents caused by fog. It also plans to deploy drones for better track-tracking and crowd management at stations. Allocations in these areas can further bolster the world's largest railway network. However, Railway Minister Piyush Goel had last year said that he is looking at innovative means of revenue generation to reduce dependence on Union Budget.
* Comfort is paramount as well - especially at a time when an increasing number of people are looking at air travel and the government to promoting UDAN (Ude Desh ka Aam Nagrik). Clean trains with safe food are two necessities which go a long way in ensuring passenger comfort. And despite installing bio-toilets and upgraded seats in many trains, the overall condition of Indian trains leaves a lot to be desired.
* Convenience: A push for better connectivity is required and is likely to get an impetus. The ambitious ‘golden quadrilateral’ project which seeks to connect the four metro cities via a high-speed rail network received a major chunk of allocation and the same is likely to happen this year as well. More wagons, more locomotives and more passenger coaches are expected as well.
* Cost of tickets is typically a major factor that is looked into when allocating funds. With 2019 elections approaching, the Modi-government may ease up on reservation fees but many also feel the resultant dip in revenue generation will hurt Railways in the long run.
* Automation of Railways' signalling system is expected to get a green signal in this budget session. It is estimated that if approved, it would cost a massive Rs 78,000 crore. Upgrading the age-old signalling system though promises to increase safety and also bolster train speeds across the country.
* The pre-Budget Economic Survey for 2017-18 released on January 29 commended the government for 'transformative' steps taken in the Railway sector. It said giving priority to high-speed rail, last-mile linkages and dedicated freight corridors were steps in the right direction. It is expected that these would get a further boost in the Union Budget.