Railway Budget today: What needs to be offered in 2017 to make Sector-on-Wheels more Self-Sufficient?

NEW DELHI: With 2017 going down in history as the year when the Rail Budget was subsumed in the General Budget, all eyes are set on the Budget Session scheduled to take place today, particularly when dark clouds have been looming over the Indian Railways for a long time. This is the first time the railway budget will be merged with the central budget. Many expect Finance Minister Arun Jaitlet to announce the new tax when he presents the railways part of the general budget on Feb 1. Earlier, Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu had asked the centre to completely fund the corpus. But that request was rejected. Instead, the centre offered to provide only 25 per cent of the funding. It asked the railways to raise the remaining 75 per cent required.

As per reports, Indian Railways is burdened by an operational loss of Rs 33,000 crore. But, not losing hope the Central Government is not leaving any stone un-turned. RailNews takes a look at what this sector on wheels has to offer in the year 2017.

Budget 2017 might have some great news for travellers like additional trains, but it also looks like they might have to shell out more for those tickets. The railway ministry plans to set up the safety fund on the basis of a recommendation of a safety review committee. The railway ministry might impose a cess on tickets to raise funds for a Rs 1.20 lakh crore safety corpus called Rashtriya Rail Sanraksha Kosh. The money collected from the cess will be pooled into the Rashtriya Rail Sanraksha Kosh. The fund is likely to be used to renew and replace tracks, rehabilitate bridges, replace and improve the signalling system, eliminate level crossings, etc. These upgrades are being done with a view to improve rail safety, reduce accidents, and prevent loss of life.

In recent months there have been a number of train derailments leading to loss of life and severe injuries. In the last two months alone there have been five train derailments. This has been a major concern for the central government and hence the introduction of the Rashtriya Rail Sanraksha Kosh.

The fare increase will likely be the biggest in the second class and AC three-tier tickets because they have a lower base fare. AC one-tier and two-tier tickets will likely see marginal changes as well.

Commuter organisations are hoping that the Union Budget, along with the Railway Budget, on Wednesday will meet some of their demands, primarily concerning long-distance trains and improvement in facilities. Several requests were sent to the Railway Ministry, throughout the year, to increase the frequency of long-distance trains and improve the “pathetic condition” of Railway Stations.

Train travel may get more expensive this year. Indian Railways likely to announce a special tax on tickets to create a dedicated safety fund. Budget 2017 might have some great news for travellers like additional trains, but it also looks like they might have to shell out more for those tickets.

Here are some highlights that will revamp the Indian Railways:

No populism, but no hike in passenger fare likely either: Jaitley is likely to announce the creation of a Rs 1 lakh crore fund corpus on infrastructure creation, including technology upgrades to ensure railway passenger safety, an ambitious scheme on steel imports to fast-forward track renewal plans, a speed upgrade plan for mail and express trains and the setting of timelines on executing the Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train project.

Flexi-fare Scheme on passenger tickets:  A flexi-fare scheme on passenger tickets is also likely, although the finance minister is expected to stay away from the tough decision of a direct hike in passenger and freight tariffs. Concrete proposals on the setting up of the Rail Development Regulator (RDA) are also likely.

Shaadi at Station: In one of the most interesting ways to get rid of the losses, railways is offering to have its platforms turned into wedding reception halls. So, if you want to stand out from the crowd and not invite people to the same old marriage halls, call up the Railways toll free and be ready for a new experience. In a first, wedding receptions will be held at the Surat railway station. A proposal was also sent by the Western Railway (WR) to the Railway Ministry. At present, the fourth platform of the Surat station has been picked by the railway officials. Besides Surat, Navapur station, one-half of which falls in Maharashtra and the other in Gujarat has also been chosen to implement the plan.

‘Pepsi Rajdhani’ or ‘Coke Shatabdi’: Setting an ambitious target of raising around Rs 2,000 crore in non-fare revenue, the transporter has readied a plan to brand trains and stations. So, you may see a ‘Pepsi Rajdhani’ or a ‘Coke Shatabdi’. In this new approach, railways will award media the rights for an entire train (both inside and outside) and stations on a long-term basis to big corporate players. It will offer out-of-home advertising policy and allow monetisation of railway assets by means of advertising. Huge LED screens will come up at stations, platforms and foot overbridges (leading to station areas) for advertising. The train branding packages will be offered through bidding in a phased manner, starting with Rajdhani and Shatabdi services.

App your way to Railways: Going digital is the new mantra and railways is falling in line. Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu on January 10, 2017 announced the release of new passenger mobile application named ‘IRCTC Rail Connect App’. The new app will provide payment gateway to over 40 banks to facilitate payments through net banking, credit or debit cards and wallets. New user registration and activation can be directly done through the IRCTC Rail Connect. The soon-to-be launched ‘Disha’, another app, will help commuters find the east and west sides of a station and help them to find passenger amenities at the station, prominent places around and general information about the station.

Coolie No.1: The year 2017 can be the year to cheer for 20,000 Railway coolies as the government looks to bring them under the social security net of Employment Provident Fund Organisation (EPFO). As per a report, a cess of 10 paise may be levied on each railway ticket to mobilise around Rs 4.38 crore every year for Railway coolies to come under EPFO. They will receive basic minimum facilities like PF, group insurance and pension.

WiFi to welcome you at all stations: Doesn’t free Wi-Fi facility excite us? What if more and more railway stations offer you this facility. Not a far-fetched thought when Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu said 200 more stations and some additional trains would be provided with Wi-Fi in 2017. Railways in 2016 had fitted 100 stations with Wi-Fi and expects to double the number this year.

From Unreserved to Reserved: Fed up of waiting for someone to make a cancellation for you to get reserved seats.  Ache din are here as more number of berths will be available under Reservation Under Cancellation (RAC) for wait-listed passengers from this year. The rail network will enhance RAC seats in both sleeper class (SL) and air-conditioned (3AC, 2AC) coaches.

Going Green: In its effort to get fast and furious, the railways is not forgetting its responsibilities towards the environment and is taking steps to go green. The Delhi Division of Indian Railways has started developing green patches surrounding railway stations in the state.