The countdown has begun. In a few hours from now, Union Minister Dinesh Trivedi will unveil the Railway Budget for the new financial year starting 1 April. Here are the key expectations:
Passenger fares: Most media reports don't expect any significant hike in passenger fares, but it is very likely that a 'safety cess' may be announced on higher-class tickets. The cess is expected to fund the Railways' projects to improve safety features on the nationwide network.
Some reports say the cess is aimed at raising about Rs 5,000 crore to fund the upgrading of signalling and telecommunication systems, expected to increase the safety of rail travel.An expert group headed by Sam Pitroda also recommended levying a 'modernisation surcharge' to upgrade the technology used by the Railways. Cash-strapped Indian Railways has not raised passenger fares for the past eight years. Freight rates: Since freight rates were increased by up to 20 percent on several commodities last week, most experts think another freight hike announcement in the Budget is unlikely.
The announced freight hike is likely to push up the cost of everything from cement, iron ore and steel to agricultural commodities. The government, however, insisted the hikes were essential to meet rising fuel and wage costs. However, significant funds could be allocated to the Rs 3,300 kilometre dedicated freight corridors (DCF) project that is expected to improve cargo movement across several states, some reports said.
High-speed trains: According to media reports, the Union Minister is a big fan of high-speed trains, so some experts expect him to make some announcements on that front (although where the financial-strapped Railways will find the funds to buy and operate these trains is still a mystery).According to PTI,Trivedi is likely to announce a new bullet train corridor for Rajasthan.
A pre-feasibility study for the introduction of bullet trains on the 591 kilometre Delhi-Jaipur-Ajmer-Jodhpur route is also expected to be announced,the report said. The Delhi-Mumbai route could also get a 'train set' - a high-speed electronic locomotive with about 10 modern coaches. The Rail Budget could also announce about 80 new trains, including the popular Duranto class of trains, a report inIndia Todaysaid.
However, don't get too excited by these proposals. Previous Railway Budgets have made grand announcements of high-speed and bullet trains; as this Firstpost story notes, we're still waiting for most of them . Emphasis on safety:Most media reports expect Trivedi to make safety and modernisation the key areas of focus of the Railway Budget. Among the various announcements in this regard, expect one on upgrading key railways routes such as the New Delhi-Mumbai and New Delhi-Kolkata and New Delhi Delhi-Chennai corridors, according to Indian Express. An in-cab signalling system, similar to the technology followed in European countries and already available with Delhi Metro, is also expected to be introduced, a mention of which is expected in Trivedi's budget speech, the report said. Mumbai special:Mumbai officials are quite hopeful of some goodies from the Railway Ministry.A DNA report says more trains could be introduced on the city's harbour line , along with 12-car services (the line currently operates only 9-car services).
ATimes of Indiareport says that the 'Roof Plaza' plan proposed by city-based architect P K Das could also be approved in the Budget. Under the plan, flat roofs will be built over platforms to create more free spaces, which can be exploited commercially. A revamp of some train stations is also expected.
A ticket price hike could also be in the offing for suburban passengers ifChief Minister Prithviraj Chavan's proposal to levy a surcharge on the first phase of the Mumbai Urban Transport Project (already completed) is accepted by the Railway Ministry. Officials also expect funds from the Ministry for the second phase of the MUTP in the Railway Budget, the ToI report said.