After instituting a pre-budget hike in ticket prices, Railway Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal in his speech has said that improvements in services need to be paid for in part through regular hikes in ticket prices over 10 years. He has announced specific measures to improve passenger safety and introduced others for making the Railways more disabled-friendly.

The Railway Budget for 2013-14, presented in the Lok Sabha on Tuesday, proposes a host of safety and amenity measures, new projects and trains, but with a pinch of inflation. Freight rates — and passenger fares too, if Railway Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal has his way — will be revised every six months.

Railway budget 2013-14: Highlights

While seeking to innovate in several ways, Mr. Bansal has spared economy class passengers from any burden, but those travelling on superfast trains and reserved compartments are now required to shell out more in the form of supplementary charges, reservation fee, clerkage and cancellation and tatkal charges.

Freight rates too have been hiked by about 5.79 per cent on almost all categories of commodities in a bid to offset the increase in the fuel bill of Rs. 5100 crore in the next financial year. The hike will yield Rs. 4,200 crore and Mr. Bansal contended that the Railways would absorb the loss of Rs. 850 crore on passenger fares arising from the hike in diesel and electricity charges.

However, the hike in other charges will yield Rs. 483 crore, thus leaving the Railways to bear a smaller gap of Rs. 400 crore.

The attempt has been to pass the entire burden of the diesel price hike to the respective segments and bring down the operating ratio of the Railways. Mr. Bansal promises to bring it down to 87.8 per cent and ensure a surplus for the first time in recent years of Rs. 12,000 crore in the next financial year.

Despite the austerity measures built in, the plan expenditure has been pegged at Rs. 63,000 crore, just about Rs. 3,000 crore more than the budget estimate for the current financial year (Rs. 60,000 crore plus), but which was revised to Rs. 52,000 crore due to financial constraints.

The other highlights of the budget are the introduction of 107 new trains, a special coach in select trains with the latest amenities, training for technical and financial staff to make them remain abreast with the happenings in the transport segment.

The Railways promise to appoint 1.52 lakh people; of these, 47,000 vacancies will be filled by weaker section and physically challenged applicants.

Besides new projects for electrification, doubling of lines, laying of new lines and gauge conversions, Mr. Bansal has announced 17 new factories and initiatives, including a forged wheel factory in Rae Bareli, constituency of Congress president Sonia Gandhi.

A rail tariff authority will be put in place and it will take a six-monthly call based on the hike in diesel and electricity charges. While passengers have been spared the hike in diesel prices, it was made clear that henceforth they too would have to bear the burden much like the cargo segment.

For now, passengers travelling in Second Class in regular trains will not be required to pay more. Supplementary charges for superfast trains have been increased by up to Rs. 25, starting with Second Class passengers, who will have to bear an additional Rs. 5.

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