//Feel good on track

Feel good on track

Statesman News Service

NEW DELHI, Feb. 24. — Presenting his third consecutive Budget, the railway minister, Mr Lalu Prasad, today sought to make travelling more comfortable and affordable for “poor” passengers by providing for “fully air-conditioned” garib rath trains. He also proposed 55 new trains and a slew of measures aimed at revenue generation and making Indian Railways a “world class” mass transport system.

The budget was sans any hike in passenger fares or freight rates. The mantra was: “Be competitive”. The minister announced a reduction in fares of AC first class and second class fares by 18 and 10 per cent, respectively. The aim is to win back passengers opting for cheap air travel. The emphasis was on restructuring fares, “raising quality of service, reducing unit cost and sharing resultant gains with consumers”. The minister described consumers as “rail ka raja (the king of the railways)”.
The superfast garib rath trains would initially be run as a pilot project between Delhi-Patna, Delhi-Mumbai, Delhi-Chennai and Saharsa-Amritsar. “The fares for these trains will be about 25 per cent lower than the present AC-3 tier fares,” Mr Prasad said. He declared 2006 as the “Year of Passenger Service with a Smile”.
The minister said rationalisation of goods tariff would continue. The ceiling for booking luggage in brake vans is to be removed. Open bidding for licences for providing on-board services in passenger trains, launching of gramin ticket booking service and jansadharan ticket booking scheme for unemployed youths are among the other proposals.

The budget further envisaged public and public-private partnership in tandem with state governments, local bodies and ports. The ministry proposed to encourage private sector investments in these segments for the development and expansion of the rail network. Recognising the need for initiating the technological upgrade of the freight train sector, the railway minister said production of high-capacity wagons would begin from 2007-08.

Mr Prasad’s two-hour 42-minute speech will go down as perhaps the noisiest ever Rail Budget presentation with MPs from the Left, the BJP and Congress MPs from Andhra Pradesh expressing dissatisfaction over what they called “neglect” of their respective states by the minister. Unfazed, Mr Prasad went on, only stopping to say: “All states are covered”. But, there was no mention in the budget of improving punctuality.

Mr Prasad sought to take full credit for outdoing his predecessor (Mr Nitish Kumar). He said the increase in fund balance from a figure of below Rs 350 crore — and amid talks about the railways getting sucked into a debt trap — to Rs 11,000 crore was “historic” and a chamatkar. He recited an Urdu couplet to make his point: “Mere zunu ka natija zaroor niklega, isee siaah samandar se noor niklega.” He said the Rs 23,475 crore annual outlay for the 2006-07 Rail Budget was the largest ever. The ministry plans to generate Rs 10,794 crore through internal resource mobilisation. The minister announced enhancement of production capacity of Rail Wheel Factory, Chhapra; capacity expansion of Integral Coach Factory, Chennai; and making over 200 Mail and Express trains into superfast ones, apart from introducing ATMs and cyber cafes at major stations. He declared money would not be a constraint when it came to giving Indian Railways that extra competitive edge.

Service with a smile
No increase in passenger fares
No increase in freight rates
AC first class fares down by 18%
AC second class fares down by 10%
Four fully AC Garib Rath trains (entirely AC-III tier) to run on a pilot project basis, fares for Garib Rath to be 25% lower than on AC-III tier
ATM, cyber cafes, vending machines & food courts at major stations, buildings to be renovated
e-ticket charges reduced
50% concession in fares to farmers,
milk producers
50% concession to handicapped people
Jansadharan Ticket Booking Scheme soon
Gramin Ticket Booking Service for unemployed rural youth
150-km speed trains will also be started on Delhi-Kanpur-Lucknow route in addition to Delhi-Agra section
All-India rail timetable to be reworked
Double-decker AC trains proposed
Journey durations of Rajdhani, Shatabdi to be reduced
Upgradation of lower class to higher class
Number of compartments for 190 trains to be increased
Private container trains to be allowed by 31 March
Rs 22,000 crore for dedicated freight corridor on Eastern & Western routes
550 km of new lines to be added in 2006-07
Double stack container train to be launched in March

Among 55 new trains announced are
Howrah-Mumbai Express (weekly)
Howrah-Puri service (weekly)
Muzaffarpur-Kolkata (Chitpore) Tirhut Express (weekly)
Bhubaneswar-Pondichery Express (weekly)
Darbhanga-Kolkata (Chitpore) Mithilanchal Express (biweekly)
Bhubaneswar-Baripada Express (triweekly)

Saraighat Express (Guwahati-Howrah) will run five days a week instead of thrice a week
Upasana Express (Howrah-Dehradun) will be biweekly instead of weekly
Gour Express (Malda-Sealdah) extended to Radhikapur

Suburban sally
Extension of circular railway from Princepghat to Majherhat completed, extension from Dum Dum to NSC Bose Airport to be completed soon