After increasing railway passenger fares earlier this year, Union minister for railways Pawan Kumar Bansal refrained from increasing them again while presenting the railway budget for financial year 2013-14 on Tuesday. He said that Indian Railways will borrow Rs 15,103 crore from the markets to usher in modernisation and ensure safety of users. For this the new budget also proposes creation of a debt service fund. Meanwhile, freight rates for various commodities transported by the rail have been increased from five to eight per cent.
The new budget identifies heavy increase in fuel prices as a major reason for increase in cost of operations. This, however, hasn’t translated into increase in passenger fares. The minister during his budget speech said that the burden of increase of high speed diesel (HSD) prices would not be faced by the passengers. Instead, the budget proposes a hike in supplementary charges such as tatkal booking and for superfast trains. “The increase in fuel bill during 2013-14 on account of these revisions in 2012-13 alone would be more than Rs 5,100 crore. As for passenger fares, since these were revised only in January this year, I do not intend to pass on the additional burden to them now and railways will absorb the impact of Rs 850 cr on this account,” he said.
Railways’ green energy initiatives
Setting up of Railway Energy Management Company (REMC) to harness potential of solar and wind energy
Setting up of 75 MW windmill plants and energizing 1,000 level crossings with solar power
Deployment of new generation energy efficient electric locomotives and electrical multiple units (EMUs), saving about 60 crore units in 2011-12. Railway has also won the National Energy Conservation Award
Encourage more usage of agro-based and recycled paper and ban use of plastic in catering
With an operating ratio--money spent to earn every 100 rupees--of 88.8 per cent for 2012-13, which is better as compared to 94.9 per cent in 2011-12, Indian Railways still faced losses of Rs24,600 crore in fiscal year ending March 31. The number of passenger trains has increased from 8,897 in 2001-02 to 12,335 in 2011-12. “Yet the losses on these operations continue to mount, increasing from Rs 4,955 crore in 2001-02 to Rs 22,500 crore in 2011-12 and is estimated to be Rs 24,600 crore in 2012-13,” said Bansal on the floor of the Lok Sabha. Last year, while presenting the railway budget, the then Union minister for railways, Dinesh Trivedi, called for across-the-board increase in rail fares to net Rs 4,000 crores. But Trivedi was immediately sacked by his party chief, Trinamul Congress Party supremo Mamta Banerjee, for presenting an “anti-people budget”, and later the price hike was rolled back. This year the problem of losses faced by Indian Railways seem to be even more acute. “[Losses] have led to the deterioration of the services extended to our esteemed passengers,” said Bansal, the first Congress cabinet minister in the past 17 years to hold the railways portfolio.
The new railway budget seeks to launch 67 new express trains and 26 new passenger trains in the next financial year. On the other hand, freight loading traffic has been brought down to 100 million tonnes from 1,025 million tonnes because of economic slowdown. Further, new coach manufacturing and maintenance facilities are to be set up in various places, including Rae Baraeli, Bhilwara, Sonepat, Kalahandi, Kolar, Palakkad and Pratapgarh. The budget also seeks to introduce wireless fidelity (wi-fi) and state-of-the-art air conditioned coaches in the trains. Mumbai's metro rail system will also be revamped with the introduction of air-conditioned coaches for its passengers.
The minister also proposed a seamless way to deliver online tickets to the consumers. By the end of 2013, the ministry will put in place a “next generation e-ticketing system” which will support issuing of 7,200 tickets per minute as against 2,000 tickets per minute at present.
For a safer journey
News that brought some cheer was reduction in train accidents. The minister reported that the Indian rail has become marginally safer as compared to the previous years. Bansal stated that even though the volume of passenger and freight traffic increased manifold, the number of train accidents per million train kilometre has decreased from 0.41 in 2003-04 to 0.13 at the end of 2011-12. The target of bringing this figure down to 0.17 by 2012-13, stipulated under the corporate safety plan introduced in 2003 was surpassed in the year 2011-12 itself. “We will strive to work towards a zero accident situation,” the minister said.
Despite recommendations given by experts committees headed by Sam Pitroda and, later, by Anil Kakodkar the minister outlined some of the issues which still need to be resolved in order to achieve a zero-accident situation. The minister said that a worrisome trend is that of accidents at level crossings. According to the latest figures, 40 per cent accidents and 60 per cent fatalities happen at level crossings. The railway safety fund set up to finance safety works at level crossings has been very useful, but is proving to be inadequate, according to the minister. Railways' annual share from the central road fund is only Rs 1,100 crore against a requirement of almost Rs 5,000 crores. “Meeting estimated requirement of nearly Rs 37,000 crore at present day cost for eliminating 5,31,846 level crossings, out of which 13,530 are unmanned, would only be possible with enhanced support from the central road fund,” Bansal said. The 12th Five Year Plan outlines elimination of 10,797 level crossings.
For safety and modernisation, Bansal spoke about the introduction of train protection warning system on automatic signalling systems across all regions. Further, train collision avoidance system is proposed to be put to trial under complex operational conditions. The budget also called for the upgradation of track structure using 60 kg rails, 260 metre-long welded rail-panels and improved flash butt welding technology, which ensures seamless and safe travel by joining longer rails together. The railways would also induct self propelled accident relief trains with speed potential of 160/200 kmph on trial basis with a view to putting in place a fast and reliable disaster management system. In the near future, Indian tracks would also see more of LHB coaches having anti-climb features which reduce the risk of pile ups in case of collision.
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