Rail fares untouched, faster trains on anvil

Tags: News

Railways to end FY14 with big surplus; 72 new trains announced; fare authority soon

Rail fares untouched, faster trains on anvil
Railway ministry Malikarjun Kharge on Wed­nesday left train fares and freight rates unchanged in his interim rail budget, clearly to avoid annoying voters ahead of the April-May general elections. He blended an otherwise dull rail budget with a tinge of populism, announcing as many as 72 new trains.

The passenger fares were last raised in January 2013, after a nine-year gap.

Kharge’s maiden rail budget presentation was marred by unruly protests by Andhra MPs over the Telangana issue, yet the railway minister generated some interest by announcing 17 premium AC long-distance non-stop trains across the country on dynamic and higher fares with shorter advance reservation period of up to 15 days.

The interim rail budget takes a vote on account for four months expenditure till July, by which time a new government will be able to present a full rail budget.

Kharge’s budget proposed to bring Arunachal Pradesh and Meghalaya into the railway map and launch passenger services up to Katra, the base station for visiting the Vaishnodevi temple in Jammu & Kashmir.

Kharge proposed to launch high-speed trains running at a speed of 160-200 km an hour in the Delhi-Agra and Delhi-Chandigarh sectors.

Railway board chairman Arunendra Kumar said the running time of the premium trains would be less than that of other trains on the same routes. There will be no waiting list, no concessions and no cancellation of tickets in these trains.

The premium trains were run on a pilot basis between Delhi and Mumbai earlier to assess the demand for such a service. These trains will provide another window for fast travel and for last-minute booking.

There are 37 long-distance routes in which there are waiting lists throughout the year. The premium trains will be introduced in 17 of these routes, where the minimum fares will be more than tatkal fares and they will be dynamic like airfares depending on demand.

When such premium trains were run on a pilot basis on the Delhi-Mumbai route, the normal two-tier AC fares costing around Rs 2,450 per ticket went up to Rs 4,900 under the dynamic fare system for the 17-hour journey.

Under the dynamic fare-setting system, airfare on the Delhi-Mumbai route can go as high as Rs 38,000 per passenger in case of last-minute booking.

Kumar said the premium trains would have demand, as the highest fare would still be cheaper than airfares. “It will help railways earn more revenue while providing better and faster service. If the concept is successful, similar services will be introduced in all the 37 routes in a phased manner,” he said.

The premium trains will be run in addition to the existing services so that passengers are not denied the option of cheaper travel, Kumar said, adding that the railways earned 48 per cent more revenue on the premium trains that it ran on the Delhi-Mumbai route.

Railways estimates Rs 94,000 crore earnings from freight and Rs 37,500 crore from passenger fares in this financial year and expects to end the year with surplus funds, a trend that began two years ago.

“Railways will end this year with surplus, and the fund balance will increase from Rs 2,391 crore at the beginning of this financial year to Rs 8,018 crore by the end of March. This is primarily attributable to strict fiscal discipline enforced by the organisation,” Kharge said. By moving marginally higher goods and passenger traffic in 2014-15 on the back of a pickup in the economy, the railways proposed to earn Rs 1,05,770 crore from freight and Rs 45,255 crore from passenger fares in the new financial year without any increase in fares or freight charges, Kharge said.

The annual plan outlay for 2014-15 has been pegged at Rs 64.305 crore, up from Rs 59,359 crore in this financial year. Railways also proposes to reduce running of empty freight carriages and introduce bio-toilet facility in more trains.

The interim budget said the rail tariff authority would be set up this year to advise the government on fixing fares and freight charges.

Kharge said the government was considering a proposal to allow FDI to create world-class railway infrastructure and step up public-private partnership.

Kharge’s budget speech was cut short because of continued slogan-shouting by Andhra MPs. Four ministers trooped to the Well during the speech to protest over the Telangana issue. The railway minister spelt out a series of steps including SMS alerts, ticketing on mobile phones in the unreserved segment and online booking of meals in trains. “IT has revolutionised our customer interface over the last few years. We intend to continue the process,” Kharge said.

CII called for revamping and restructuring of the railways by developing a sustainable financial model to ensure feasibility of projects.

“Revamping of railway tariff, allowing FDI in railways and encouraging joint ventures and PPPs must be explored to access funds. This will infuse the necessary momentum to rail infrastructure upgradation,” said Chandrajit Banerjee, director general of CII.

FICCI welcomed the setting up of an independent rail tariff authority and the thrust on safety in the interim rail budget.

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