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Prabhu keeps rail fares, freight rates intact

By The Assam Tribune

NEW DELHI, Feb 25 - Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu today desisted from raising fares and freight rates in his second Budget but promised to cut cost and exploit new sources of revenue beyond tariff as he announced three new superfast trains and completion of three freight corridors by 2019.

Presenting the Railway Budget for 2016-17 in Parliament, he said the guiding principles to keep the modernisation of world�s fourth-largest network on track are new sources of revenue, expenditure optimization and new operating structure.

Today�s announcements included India�s first rail auto hub in Chennai, boost to e-catering, creation of dedicated north-south, east-west and east coast freight corridors by 2019; connectivity to North-East and wifi in railway stations.

Unlike last year when he tweaked freight rates to mop up an additional Rs 4,000 crore, Prabhu made no fresh changes either in passenger fares or freight rates.

Plan outlay for Railways has been put at Rs 1.21 lakh crore for 2016-17, up by about 20 per cent from the current year�s estimated expenditure. Its focus was on completion of the ongoing projects rather than announcing new ones.

�These are challenging times, may be one of the toughest. We are faced with two headwinds, entirely beyond our control; tepid growth of our economy�s core sectors due to international slowdown and the looming impact of the 7th Pay Commission and increased productivity bonus payouts,� he said in his over an hour long speech.

Slowdown in growth of passenger and freight revenues has put pressure on the railways� finances and Prabhu said the railways would need to cut costs, grow its freight business which provides two-thirds of its revenue and target new sources of non-tariff revenue through measures such as redeveloping train stations.

�We need to look beyond the current approach to expand the basket (of freight commodities). We will make sure we recapture the traffic,� Prabhu said adding railways need to �reorganise, restructure and rejuvenate.�

The three new superfast trains announced include �Humsafar�, which will be a fully air-conditioned 3AC service with option of meals. �Tejas� will showcase the future of train travel in India with speeds up to 130 km per hour with onboard services such as entertainment, local cuisine and wifi. 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.

For improving quality of travel for unreserved passenger, a superfast �Antyodya� express service would be introduced. �Deen Dayalu� unreserved coaches with potable water and higher number of mobile charging points would also be introduced.

He also announced setting up of a Rail Development Authority to enable fair pricing of services, promote competition, protect customer interest and determine efficiency standards. The draft Bill in this regard will be ready after holding extensive stakeholder consultations.

The India Railways has a saving of Rs 8,720 crore from previous Budget estimates, Prabhu said. This year, �we hope to generate revenue to the order of Rs 1,84,820 crore�. The focus will be on capital expenditure with a mix of various sources of funding in order to ensure that the projects are given assured funding.

�Dignity of passengers, speed of trains and progress of nation are main themes of this Budget,� he added. �Reorganise, Restructure and Rejuvenate� are the three pillars of the Rail Budget.

Prabhu announced plans to eliminate all unmanned level crossings by 2020, electrify 2000-km railway line next year and increase electrification budget by 50 per cent.

The Railways is poised to commission 7 km of broad gauge lines every day in this year against an average of 4.3 km. � PTI


� No hike in passenger fares, freight rates

� Rs 8.5 lakh crore to be spent in 5 years for modernisation of rail infrastructure

� To invest Rs 1.21 lakh crore in 2016-17.

� 3 new super-fast trains � Humsafar Express, Tejas, Uday

� Aastha circuit trains to connect important pilgrim centres

� Super-fast unreserved train Antyodaya Express

� Deen Dayalu unreserved coaches with water, mobile charging points

� 50% more lower berth quota for senior citizens

� By 2020 reserved accommodation on trains on demand

� 400 stations to have wifi, 100 in next fiscal

� E-ticketing capacity raised to 7,200/min, from 2,000/min

� CCTV surveillance for all major stations

� 30,000 bio-toilets in trains by next year

� Cleaning of coach on demand soon

� E-booking tickets on concessional passes for journalists

� Bar-coded tickets, scanners on pilot basis

� E-ticketing facility on foreign debit/credit cards

� Sale of tickets through hand-held terminals soon

� Beautification stations at pilgrimage centres, including Ajmer, Puri, Varanasi, Nagapattinam

� FM radio stations to provide train borne entertainment

� Rail Mitra Seva for old and disabled passengers

� Optional travel insurance for rail passengers

� Janani Sewa for providing food for children

� Smart coaches with automatic doors, bio vacuum toilets, improved aesthetics

� Mobile app to deal with ticketing issues, complaints

� Information boards in trains, GPS-based digital display inside coaches

� SPV with Japan for Ahmedabad-Mumbai Bullet Train

� Rs 30,000 crore spent on passenger fares. � PTI

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