There weren’t any new trains flagged off from the House. There weren’t any announcements of all-new factories or lofty promises of surveys for new lines.
Finance minister Arun Jaitley meant business in the first Union budget that subsumed the state-owned transporter’s annual financial plan, and he showed it with a focus on reform and safety even as the outlay for the railways hit a high of Rs 1,31,000 crore.
Jaitley announced the creation of a Rashtriya Rail Samraksha Kosh (RRSK) or Rail Safety Fund with a Rs 1 lakh crore corpus. The fund will ensure an annual expenditure of Rs 20,000 crore on safety-related work, including track renewal and signal upgrades.
- Unmanned Level Crossings on Broad Gauge network to be eleiminated by 2020.
- Railways will seek international assistance on improving safety preparedness.
- Slew of measures on passenger safety including SMS-based “Clean my coach” service and a “Coach Mitra” facility.
- A plan to fit bio toilets in all coaches by 2019, and solid waste management plants will be progressively set up.
- 500 stations will have facilities for differently abled passengers this year in terms of lifts and escalators.
- Dedicated trains will be launched to reach tourism and pilgrimage centres.
While the finance minister left passenger fares unchanged to avoid any fallout on upcoming state elections, sources in the government said a hike would follow at a later date.
Jaitley announced a waiver of the service charge on e-tickets and spoke about a number of steps to improve passenger amenities such as a “Coach Mitra” facility that provides a single window interface for all coach-related requirements or complaints.
The Railways has a network of 1,14, 907km of track. Of this, 4,500km should be annually renewed. However, financial constraints had deterred the progress on track renewals in the last six years.
With a spate of derailments and accidents in recent months , the demand for a safety fund had gained momentum. It is to be noted that the Railways has the worst record among all countries in terms of the number of passengers killed.
The 2011 high level safety review committee, headed by Dr Anil Kakodkar, had estimated an expenditure of ₹1,03, 110 crore over a five-year period for implementing its recommendations.
“Work on eliminating the unmanned level crossings (ULCs) – which account for 40% of all rail-related deaths – will be taken up at a faster pace. We will target the elimination of such crossings on broad gauge lines by 2019,” Jaitley said.
The Railways is estimated to have 11,563 ULCs. A cost of ₹39,001 crore is needed for completing ongoing works on road overbridges, low height subways and elimination of ULCs.
While the initial seed capital of ₹5,000 crore will come from the government, the RSRK corpus is planned to be met through a contribution of ₹10,000 crore from the railways’ share in the central road fund and ₹5,000 crore from the internal resources of the Railways.
Such a fund was created when Nitish Kumar was the railways minister in 2003. Then, a safety surcharge had been imposed on passenger tickets to serve the loan of ₹17,000 crore.
But Jaitley hinted at no safety surcharge, saying that decisions on fare and freight tariffs would depend on four factors — the cost of service provided; quality of service offered ; social obligation commitments of the government; and competition from other forms of transport.
Jaitley also announced a plan to fit bio toilets in all coaches by 2019, while saying that solid waste management plants will be progressively set up.
As part of the drive to improve services, dedicated trains will be launched to tourism and pilgrimage centres, Jaitley said.
Speaking on the government’s “digital push” agenda, Jaitley announced the SMS-based “Clean-my-Coach” scheme and also announced the service charge waiver on passengers buying e-tickets from the Railways Catering and Tourism Corporation website.
Besides, 500 stations will have facilities for differently abled passengers this year in terms of lifts and escalators..