Rail budget may push up higher class fares, freight rates

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New Delhi, Feb 25: Railway Minister PK Bansal is all set to increase fares and freight rates. The railway budget is tomorrow and on the eve of the D-day Bansal gave indications that he will increase fares again.

To cushion the hike he promised to provide amenities for the passengers, so awfully missing in India. "If we have money, then we will be in a position to man issues of passenger safety and facilities in a better way," the minister said on Monday.

"If we have money, then we will be in a position to provide better facilities. As per my feedback, the passengers are saying, 'You provide us facilities, the marginal hike will not affect us'," the minister said.

Perhaps, based on such a logic that passengers will pay more for services, Bansal, did not categorically rule out that there would be no further hike in train fares, especially in executive classes.

Fares of all classes were increased last month to net an additional annual revenue of Rs.1,200 crore by the end this fiscal alone.

Cleanliness will also be high on the agenda. For this, he said, 100 railway stations have been shortlisted.

"Depositing human excreta at the railway stations is a problem. We have got suggestions to close toilets (when the train is parked at the station) but a final call on this is yet to be taken."

The budget may see some further hike in freight charges in the wake of the economic recession.

"The economic slowdown has reduced our earnings from freight. There is a decline in steel and cement transportation. During Lalu's (Prasad) tenure, there was increase in the load capacity. But the extra load capacity is not repaying us right now. It's a matter of concern."

He also said the railways will soon introduce a 24X7 helpline for women that will be tracked "on real-time basis". "The safety and security of passengers, especially the women, is the top priority of the Indian Railways," Bansal said on Monday.

"It's not possible to deploy women constables in each of the 51,000 coaches. But soon there would be round-the-clock toll-free helpline for women and this will be tracked on real-time basis," he said.

To ensure the security of women in trains, especially to end chain and purse snatching incidents, the railways would ensure that no male passenger travels in all-women coaches, he said. This is a common occurrence in suburban service of Mumbai.

His comments come at a time when the safety of women commuting on public transport has come under a spotlight after a young woman in the national capital was gang-raped on a bus Dec 16.

Amongst the railways' priorities will be launching over 100 new trains, especially on some religious tourism sections, speeding up derailed projects, improving catering and, of course, setting finances in order, ministry sources said.

OneIndia News

(With IANS inputs)

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