The railway budget has given indications in a way about the sections that are going to be the focus in the upcoming budget. The common man and the powerful swing voters—youth.
From Wi-fi for traveling students in 400 stations to more bio-toilets, Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu on Thursday, announced a host of measures to woo the youth of the nation.
Noteworthy, among the very limited new trains promised this year, is the Antyodaya Express—a long-distance, fully unreserved, super fast train service. Overnight UDAY (Utkrisht Double-Decker, air-conditioned Yatri) Express are to be operated on "dense routes" of the railways.
For unreserved travelers, two to four Deen Dayal Coaches are to be added in some long-distance trains. These coaches will have facilities for potable drinking water and mobile charging points. Meals included with train ticket prices is likely to become optional from now on. Sale of tickets are promised through hand held terminals and platform tickets through vending machines.
For tourists and NRI travelers e-ticketing facility using foreign debit/credit cards would be started.
"The rail budget has certainly attempted to be tech savvy in more than one way. Adoption of some basic technological solutions, like cancellation through the 139 helpline using One Time Password, bar coded tickets, scanners and access control were necessary," said Harsh Dhingra, country representative, India, of coach makers Bombardier Transportation.
To keep touts away, CCTV cameras are proposed to be installed at ticket counters. Wait listed passengers will also be offered 'Vikalp' (an alternative train accommodation system) scheme to provide choice of accommodation in specific trains.
Food on trains was paid attention in this year's budget. For the convenience of traveling passengers, IRCTC will take over from private operators and manage catering services in a phased manner. Online ordering of food for specific trains are to be extended from 45 to 408 stations.
Milk and medicine counters will be set up at stations. Also, there will be an option of serving chai in earthen kulhars from now on.
A big relief this budget brought was the announcement to convert all operational halts into commercial halts. This will benefit many passengers and help the railways in garnering additional passenger revenues from these halts.
For pilgrims, an Astha circuit of trains connecting all important pilgrimages has been announced.
The humble coolie is likely to get a new shirt (uniform) on his back and are to be trained in soft skill and are "Henceforth to be called sahayak," Prabhu said.
Prabhu has also promised more aplomb for the humble train coach and promised better designing to ensure more carrying capacity, automatic doors, more accessibility for disabled, bio-vaccum toilets and much more. Vending machines in trains and entertainment screens are also to be made standard.
For business dealing with Indian Railways, two mobile apps will be launched. This is aimed at bringing transparency in decision making and reducing hassles for businesses.
“Only the red train wagons are what have remained the same since my childhood. These are visions in the current step that the railway minister has taken. The railway budget promises to be big for both the industry and the next generation,” said Harsh Neotia, president of industry chambers FICCI and Chairman of Ambuja Neotia group.