Rail Budget to focus on speed, safety

New Delhi : Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu will present the Railway Budget on Thursday with privatisation and competition appearing to be the fulcrum of rail policies.

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The minister will also focus on speed and safety of trains, besides passenger comfort.

The budget is expected to lay thrust on modernisation of safety apparatus, upgradation of stations into commercial hubs, cleanliness of stations and trains, and changes in catering system. Struggling to increase revenue to sustain the burden of seventh pay commission in an already strained financial situation, the minister may add some new avenues with scope for commercialisation.

The minister is likely to tap the revenue generation potential of stations and trains through advertisements. He is likely to ease the process of using railway land and station areas for shops and malls.

The Railways have been debating an appropriate level of passenger fare and there is a consensus among policy planners that the fare must match expenses on passenger travel. According to them, the passenger fares of air-conditioned class have already reached a saturation point and only second class fares hold the potential for a hike.

The freight rates are unlikely to increase. However, new items and new carrier policy are likely to feature in the budget. “Only political reasons can stop a revision of passenger fares. There is a gap of Rs 30,000 crore between expenses and earnings from passenger travel. We need a revision,” a senior official told Deccan Herald.

Speed trains – both semi and high speed – are likely to be highlighted to give colour to the budget. The budget is likely to unveil implementation plans for Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train and announcements about Delhi-Chennai and other bullet train projects.

The Railways is also concentrating on increasing speed of trains and running semi-high speed trains. Safety would be an area of focus and more allocations are to be made to acquire new technology and modernise signalling system and anti-collision device.

Cleanliness, drinking water supply, easier ticketing, security on trains and catering are likely to get priority to improve passenger amenities. Participation of private sector in catering and sanitation is to be encouraged.

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