Holding the fares constant – pretty much for the seventh straight year – the Railway budget for 2010-11 provides for modest improvements in infrastructure and facilities for passengers and employees to be paid for with internal savings, higher plan outlay and market borrowings.

Presenting on Wednesday the second budget of her current term in the Lok Sabha, Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee announced five new train services, 28 pairs of passenger trains and 17 suburban trains. The services of 21 trains were extended and the frequency of 12 increased.

Though the freight rates were left untouched, she announced a token concession of Rs. 100 a wagon in charges for foodgrains for domestic use and kerosene as a “small gesture” to ameliorate the plight of the common man, who is affected by high prices.

Ms. Banerjee reduced the service tax on purchase of e-tickets from Rs. 40 to Rs. 20 for AC tickets and from Rs. 15 to Rs 10 for sleeper class tickets. Cancer patients can now travel free of cost along with their companion in AC III and sleeper class.

On the infrastructure front, the Railways proposes to construct a record 1,000 km of line within a year at an estimated cost of Rs. 4,411 crore; provide passenger amenities worth Rs. 1302 crore; carry out surveys for 114 socially desirable projects connecting backward areas, 54 for new lines, two for gauge conversion and seven for track doubling; evolve a master plan for development of infrastructure in the north-east, 800 km of gauge conversion and 700 km of track doubling.

The budget promises housing for all the 14 lakh railway employees in 10 years, 50 crèches for children of women employees and 20 hostels.

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