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Polls in mind, govt presents safe, no-frills rail budget

Railway minister Mallikarjun Kharge on Wednesday kept passenger fares and freight rates unchanged while presenting the interim budget in the run-up to the LS polls amid protests over the creation of Telangana state. Waitlisted passengers to get automatic SMS alert

business Updated: Feb 17, 2014 05:35 IST

Railway minister Mallikarjun Kharge on Wednesday kept passenger fares and freight rates unchanged, introduced 72 new trains and announced connectivity to two more northeastern states in the interim budget amid protests over the creation of a separate Telangana state.

Full coverage of the interim railway budget

In what was his personal first and the last such exercise in the 15th Lok Sabha for the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, Kharge also promised a new tariff-setting body and said work on eastern and western freight corridors was progressing well.

Read:Waitlisted passengers to get automatic SMS alert

The minister who could hardly be heard amid the din in the House as members continued to raise slogans and had to cut short his speech.

The minister only read a part of his speech for all of 14 minutes in the lower house of Parliament as members continued to disrupt proceedings.

The full speech copy, along with the other documents that included a vote on account for the first four months of the next fiscal, was laid on the table of the House.

Union ministers KS Rao, D Purandeshwari, Chiranjeevi and K Surya Prakash Reddy were seen trooping into the Well in protest against the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh as he read his speech. They all belong to the Seemandhra region.

Read:Rail Tariff Authority for transparency in fare decision, says Kharge

The minister announced that 72 new trains were being introduced, including 17 premium trains, 38 express trains, 10 passenger trains, four suburban trains and three diesel locomotive inter-city trains for medium distances.

He said despite the resource constraints, the targets for the current fiscal were fully achieved, with some 2,207 km of new lines, adding two more northeastern states will be on the country's railroad map this fiscal -- Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya.

Anticipating a healthier economic growth, the freight traffic target, he said, was also proposed higher at 1,101 million tonnes -- an increment of 49.7 million tonnes over the current year's revised target of about 1,052 million tonnes.

Read:Railways targets record Rs 1.6 lakh crore revenue in 2014-15

In terms of electrification of the network, 4,556 km railway line was completed this fiscal, against the target of 4,500 km, while the target of doubling the gauge was also surpassed with 2,227 km, against 2,000 km.

Train services will also start for Vaishno Devi shrine at Katra in Jammu and Kashmir, he said.

He said three new rail factories in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal have already been commissioned -- a wheel plant at Chhapra, a coach factory in Rae Bereli and a diesel component factory at Dankuni, respectively.

"Specially designed coaches for adverse weather conditions have been inducted for rail travel in Kashmir valley. Also corrosion-resistant and lighter wagons to carry extra pay-load and higher speed of up to 100 km per hour have been developed," he said.

As far as safety is concerned, there are no unmanned level crossings left, the minister said, even as induction-based cooking was introduced in the pantry cars to prevent fire and improved audio-video systems installed to warn road users of approaching trains.

Read:Railways to run 17 premium AC special trains

Kharge, who has been holding the railway portfolio only for the past eight months, spoke of the role played by the railways in India's social and economic development and the lack of physical and financial resources to carry this mandate forward.

"It's time we take note of the investment and other urgent needs of the railways."

Reports added that AIADMK and TDP members tore copies of the Railway Budget in the Well.

Speaker Meira Kumar adjourned the House till Thursday as soon as Kharge tabled the budget.

Ranked among the world's top five, the Indian railroad network ferries 23 million people and 2.65 million tonnes of goods daily from 7,083 stations on 12,000 passenger and 7,000 freight trains over more than 64,000 km route.

It is also among the largest employers with an estimated 1.4 million people on its rolls.