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Srinand Jha, Hindustan Times
New Delhi, February 26, 2013
Improving passenger amenities by modernising stations, building new tracks and acquiring rolling stock will figure prominently in railways minister Pawan Kumar Bansal’s inaugural budget speech on Tuesday.

Bansal – the first railways minister from the Congress in almost 17 years – is also expected to focus prominently on passenger safety by investing in modern signaling systems.

Acquiring semi-high-speed trains for faster inter-city travel could also feature in his speech. But all this could burn a hole in the common man’s pocket.“After hiking fares in January, Bansal can avoid going in for another hike in his budget speech because of political considerations. But raising fares is an imperative and the decision can come shortly,” an official said.

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An indirect hike through the imposition of a passenger cess or a terminal user surcharge is not being ruled out. 

Bansal will spell out the specifics of his plans to charge an additional amount from passengers as Fuel Adjustment Component (FAC) to set up the Rail Tariff Regulatory Authority. But implementation of this plan could be deferred, sources said.

An announcement on the setting of a Special Project Vehicle for implementing the long list of pending projects is likely.  Projects worth an estimated Rs. 1, 50,000 crore have been delayed, many of them for decades. Bansal will also announce plans for the procurement of Self Propelled Accident Relief Trains (SPART) for providing medical relief to passengers in the event of an accident.