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Railway gives from one hand, takes from other

Written by: Staff
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New Delhi, Feb 24 (UNI) Though no fresh fare hike has been effected in Railway Budget 2006-07, passengers will cough up more for travel on 200 trains which have been upgraded from mail/express to superfast category.

''We will of course charge superfast rates from passengers on these upgraded trains,'' Railway Board Chairman Jai Prakash Batra said at a post-budget press conference here when asked if those travelling in the upgraded superfast trains too had been exempted from the fare hike.

He, however, added that the passengers would save on time even while paying a little more on the faster trains. Slow moving trains on all routes would be replaced over time with DMUs and EMUs, he said.

The Railways wanted to tap the expanding middle class market more effectively through continuous upgradation of its services, Mr Batra said.

The 'Garib Rath' being introduced on pilot basis on Delhi-Patna, Delhi-Mumbai, Delhi-Chennai and Saharsa-Amritsar routes will give airconditioned comfort to the lower middle class at 25 per cent less cost than the 3rd AC charge.

''There is a large emerging middle class that aspires for more comfort but cannot afford the high charges in the luxury classes. So we are giving A/C comfort to them at a rate a little over the II Sleeper Class,'' a Railway Board member explained.

The Railways also planned to start fully airconditioned double-decker trains, he added. Competition ''from air'' in upper classes too had been effectively tackled, he said, pointing out that occupancy rates had gone up on this front too.

On the safety front, the Railways had already spent Rs 13,000 crore on upgradation of tracks, bridges and telecommunications and another Rs 5,740 crore would be utilised this year, Mr Batra said.

Anti-collision devices introduced in the North-East zone would be expanded to Southern, South-Central and South Western zones too.

The Railways is trying to bring down losses by introducing longer trains -- with 23-25 wagons -- so that its productivity goes up.

In what looks like an attempt to protect citizens from the cascading effect of rising diesel and petrol prices, the budget proposed to bring down the freight charge for the two commodities by 8 per cent. Freight rates of paper, sponge iron, D-oil cake have been slightly increased.

To a question, Mr Batra said the Eastern Dedicated Freight Corridor may be extended upto ports in Kolkata as per need later on. As of now the corridor would link Ludhiana and Sonnagar aiming to cater to coal and energy projects in the belt. The feeder routes would be upgraded to carry heavy load later on, he added, saying the metro cities were not the prime centres of freight traffic for the Railways.

Another new feature in the budget, Mr Batra said, was that Railway Divisions can now employ local architects to improve the get up of stations.

UNI NAZ/VN PA KN1840

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