Com­muters drive no-frills rail bud­get

PRABHU’S PLAN No fare hikes or big re­forms, rail­way min­is­ter tweaks ex­ist­ing sys­tem to prom­ise bet­ter ride

Hindustan Times ST (Mumbai) - HT Navi Mumbai Live - - FRONT PAGE - Sri­nand Jha sri­nand­jha@hin­dus­ta­

Rail­way min­is­ter Suresh Prabhu chose grad­u­al­ism over a big-bang ap­proach on Thurs­day, fus­ing en­trepreneur­ship with pop­ulism in a Rs 1.21 lakh crore in­vest­ment plan as part of a broad strat­egy to turn the net­work into an ef­fi­cient and prof­itable or­gan­i­sa­tion.

Prabhu kept fares and freight rates un­changed in the rail­way bud­get for 2016-17, but an­nounced new types of trains aimed at cater­ing to the needs of pas­sen­gers across the in­come scale. He an­nounced the launch of An­to­daya Ex­press, a long- dis­tance, fully un­re­served, su­per­fast train ser­vice, for the com­mon man to be op­er­ated on dense routes.

Ad­di­tion­ally, the rail­ways will add Deen Day­alu coaches in some long- dis­tance trains for un­re­served travel. An­other three new ser­vices — Hum­sa­far, Te­jas and UDAY — are aimed the rel­a­tively well-off pas­sen­gers.

The se­cond bud­get of Prabhu, a char­tered ac­coun­tant, had a tinge of political un­der­tone. Two new ded­i­cated freight cor­ri­dors will con­nect a cru­cial in­dus­trial town in West Ben­gal — Khara­ga­pur — to Mum­bai and Vi­jay­wada, re­spec­tively. The third will run from Delhi to Chen­nai. A ded­i­cated auto rail hub will also come up in the south­ern me­trop­o­lis.

The projects were an­nounced weeks be­fore as­sem­bly polls are to be held in both West Ben­gal and Tamil Nadu. Prabhu, who was hailed for adopt­ing a busi­ness-strat­egy ap­proach to turn around the de­crepit 163-year-old net­work, placed the fo­cus firmly on pas­sen­gers, an­nounc­ing a raft of ameni­ties.

Th­ese in­clude al­low­ing pas­sen­gers to can­cel tick­ets by call­ing in at the ded­i­cated tele­phone num­ber 139, in­stalling 17,000 hi-tech toi­lets on trains, rolling out wi-fi ser­vices in hun­dreds of sta­tions and pro­fes­sion­al­is­ing mil­lions of porters or “coolies” by train­ing them in soft skills and re­nam­ing them “sa­hayaks” (helpers).

Prabhu, who laid out a Rs 8.56 crore five-year turn­around plan last year, had very lit­tle room to splurge given a bal­loon­ing wage and pen­sion bill on ac­count of the 7th pay com­mis­sion pay­outs.

“New rev­enues, new norms and new struc­tures need to be evolved,” Prabhu said in his hour-long speech.

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