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Railways: Passenger safety, infrastructure get major push

Even though the budget presentation for Railways lacked its old charm when it was presented by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, the national transporter got a major push to resurrect its operating ratio. The rail budget also tried to incentivise passengers booking their rail tickets online by withdrawing service charge being levied by Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) for using its portal services.

In the budget speech of Jaitley for railways, the Finance Minister gave a special push to passenger safety focusing on strengthening of infrastructure by announcing a Rail Sanraksha Kosh (a safety fund corpus) of Rs 1 lakh crore over a period of 5 years. Given that railways have witnessed repeated derailments in the last three years, the government's move to set up special safety fund will cover upgradation of tracks and signalling besides the elimination of unmanned level crossings.

The plan size for the Railway Budget merged with General Budget 2017-18, has been pegged at Rs 1,31,000 crore as against Rs 1.21 lakh crore last year, Jaitley announced.

Terming the merger of Railways Budget with General Budget a historic one, Rail Minister Suresh Prabhu said that the provision of Rs 1.31 lakh crore for railways' capital expenditure is unprecedented which shows that the budget is growth oriented.

Beside seed capital from the government, the Railways will arrange the balance from its own resource avenues and from other sources. The government will lay down clear cut guidelines for timeline implementation of various safety works to be funded from this kosh. Also, the Budget proposed the elimination of all unmanned level crossings on the broad gauge network by 2020.

In another major move aimed at generating revenue for railways, Jaitley in his budget speech announced that Indian Railways will also list its subsidiaries — IRCTC, Indian Railway Finance Corporation and Ircon International Ltd. "The railways will increase its throughput by 10 per cent by upgrading dedicated corridors which have high traffic volumes. The national carrier will lay down 3,500km of tracks in 2017-18 as compared with 2,800km in 2016-17," Jaitley said. In an attempt to address the grievances of passengers, the government has proposed to introduce a Coach Mitra Facility, which will act as a single window interface to register all coach related complaints and requirements. Also by 2019, all coaches of Indian railways will be fitted with bio-toilets. The budget has stressed on promoting Railways tourism by announcing steps to be taken to launch dedicated trains of tourism and pilgrimage. In a first, the private players would also be encouraged to launch their own tourism and pilgrimage railway services on revenue sharing model with railways.

The government has announced to develop 500 stations as differently-abled friendly with lifts and escalators and it's been also proposed to feed 7,000 stations with solar power in the medium term.

Safer Ride
  1. For passenger safety, a Rashtriya Rail Sanraksha Kosh will be created with a corpus of Rs 1 lakh crore over a period of 5 years
  2. Coach Mitra Facility would be introduced to address the grievances of passengers
  3. Online tickets will be cheaper as service charge on e-tickets booked through IRCTC has been withdrawn
  4. Elimination of all unmanned level crossings on the broad gauge network by 2020
  5. The shares of Railway PSEs like IRCTC, IRFC and IRCON will be listed on stock exchanges
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