"The poor and middle classes will not benefit much from it.... Fare has been hiked through backdoor," BSP supremo Mayawati said today after Railway Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal presented the Rail Budget. But despite the political opposition to the hike in freight rates and introduction of only 22 new railway lines, here are a few interesting budget give-aways.
1. Free Wifi: Soon you will be able to access Internet on your smartphones and laptops while travelling by train as the railways is planning to provide Wi-Fi based connectivity to passengers free-of-charge on several trains.
2. e-ticketing through mobile phones. Bansal also announced a project that will allow passengers to book railway tickets from their mobile phones. Passengers will also get SMS alerts which will provide updates on the reservation status.
"As a follow up to overwhelming response to the Indian Railways website and integrated train inquiry service under 193, a project of SMS alerts to passengers providing updates on reservation status is being rolled out shortly, said Bansal in his speech.
There will be a provision of covering large number of trains under real time information system whereby rail users will be able to access information through nominated Web sites and mobile phones.
3. Anubhuti: With the popularity of Shatabdi and Rajdhani trains, high-travel comfort has been high on passenger agenda. For this, one such coach, that will provide excellent ambience and services, will run on select trains. Such coaches will be called 'Anubhuti.
Also seven more stations will get air conditioned executive lounges on the lines of the one in New Delhi.
4. Better quality, lab tests planned for rail food: Remember the dead rat found in a meal by a family traveling in Sarvodaya Express? Well, giving due consideration to several complaints about the hygiene and quality of food in Indian Railways, Bansal proposed food testing laboratories and state-of-the-art base kitchens. He also suggested an audit of the catering service by a third party.
"For effective quality control, arrangements are being made for tie up with food testing laboratories, in addition to third-party audit," he said. State-of-the-art base kitchens have also been proposed on railway premises for better monitoring of quality of meals.
5. Next-Gen e-ticketing system: This new system will allow the rolling out of 7200 tickets per minute against 2000 now & 1.20 lakh users simultaneously against 40,000 now.
Noting that congestion on the IRCTC website causes inordinate delay in accessing the system for e-ticketing, Bansal announced that by the end of this calendar year railways will put in place a next generation e-ticketing system. "This will bring about a paradigm shift in internet rail ticketing by significantly improving the end user experience with respect to ease of use, response time as well as capacity," he said.
The system will make use of advance fraud control and security management tools thereby further improving transparency in sale of tickets.
“This will bring about a paradigm shift in Internet rail ticketing by significantly improving the end user experience with respect to ease of use, response time as well as capacity,’’ Bansal said.
5. Aadhaar to be used for various passenger and staff related services to tackle the menace of touts in bookings. Aadhaar can be helpful for Railways in many respect, from booking tickets to tracking pension of rail employees, Bansal said.
6. Eight to ten more mechanized laundries for quality washing of linen.
7. 179 escalators and 400 lifts at A-1 and other major stations to be installed facilitating elderly and differently-abled.
8. Eight new companies of women Railway Protection Force: Stressing safety of women travelling on trains, Bansal announced a slew of measures including raising of eight new companies of women Railway Protection Force (RPF). "To strengthen the security of rail passengers, especially the women passengers, the railways have already created four companies of women RPF personnel and another eight would be set up," Bansal said in his maiden railway budget speech.
He said the recruitment to RPF is being conducted with 10 percent vacancies reserved for women. "The presence of women RPF personnel will be further strengthened with the field units." The minister said women's special local trains in metropolitan cities have women RPF staff on board. "Security helpline numbers have been made available on several zonal railways to facilitate passengers in reporting any untoward incidence for immediate intervention," he said.