As passenger earnings witnessed a dip and low-cost airlines cut into Indian Railways’s wide passenger base, Suresh Prabhu’s second Railway Budget 2016-17 was aimed at luring customers with novel schemes.
Being a technocrat as he is hailed to be, Prabhu let IT initiatives take centre stage in all his announcements. “Indian Railways as an organization cannot progress on the path of prosperity unless that path is ‘digitally’ illuminated,” said Prabhu in his speech.
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Wi-Fi facility which was introduced in the last budget with 100 stations was extended further to 400 stations – to be covered in next two years. The minister introduced bar coded tickets, GPS based information system inside coaches and IT integration of all facilities dealing with ticketing issues and receipt of suggestions. Activities of track inspection, monitoring and maintenance would be switched over to an IT platform.
Prabhu and the railways ministry were widely complimented for being proactive on social media and in addressing consumer complaints. In line with same Prabhu announced that interaction and feedback through social media would be strengthened further.
In a laudable move, the minister introduced ‘Janani sewa’ or availability of children’s menu items on trains. Baby foods, hot milk and hot water would be made available on stations and changing boards for babies would be provided in train toilets.
Reaching out to the large plethora of unreserved passengers, the minister announced superfast long route train service -Antyodaya Express. The budget also introduced Mahamana Express with modern refurbished coaches and 17,000 bio-toilets in trains. Also, unreserved coaches called as Deen Dayalu coaches with potable water and higher number of mobile charging points.
For reserved passengers, three types of trains were announced. Humsafar - fully air-conditioned third AC service with an optional service for meals. Tejas a semi-tourism train would operate at speeds of 130 kmph and above and offer onboard services such as entertainment, local cuisine, Wi-Fi, etc. Humsafar and Tejas would ensure cost recovery through tariff and non-tariff measures, said the minister.
An overnight double-decker, ‘Utkrisht Double-Decker Air-conditioned Yatri’ (UDAY) Express was introduced on the busiest routes. The minister said UDAY has the potential to increase carrying capacity by almost 40 per cent.
Sub-urban Mumbai train network reeling under traffic overload got a sigh of relief with the minister announcing two elevated suburban corridors between Churchgate-Virar and CSTM-Panvel. The CSTM-Panvel corridor will be integrated with metro lines being planned by the State Government for connecting existing Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport and proposed Navi Mumbai International Airport. “We intend to raise all low level platforms in Mumbai suburban stations in the ensuing financial year to address safety concerns on this account,” said the minister.
For the national capital, the budget announcement was for revival of the Ring Railway system comprising 21 stations.
The railway minister extended e-catering services from existing 45 large stations to all 408 ‘A-1’ and ‘A’ class stations. He said the Railways is exploring the possibility of making mandatory catering services optional in trains and also local cuisine of choice will be made available to passengers.
Under ‘Swachh Bharat’ mission of the NDA government the Indian Railways would undertake awareness campaigns to improve cleanliness at select stations, station approach roads and adjacent colonies.
The budget statement said the Railwys would “Install additional 30,000 bio-toilets in the next financial year and provide portable structures with bio-toilets at all platforms of select stations to meet the demand of senior citizens, Divyang(physically handicapped) and women travellers.
The ‘Vikalp’ (Alternative Train Accommodation System) scheme introduced in October 2015 will be expanded to provide choice of accommodation in specific trains to wait-listed passengers.