Focus areas of the Railways the coming year will hinge on two aspects— ensuring rail safety and upgrading passenger amenities.
Announcing a Rashtriya Rail Sanraksha Kosh (RSRK) or a rail safety fund with a corpus of ₹1 lakh crore, finance minister Arun Jaitley stressed on improving passenger amenities in terms of providing clean coaches and stations.
The rail safety fund — with a ₹20,000 crore component each year over the next five years — will enable the Railways to take up long pending works such as track renewals, signal system upgrades and maintenance of old and distressed bridges.
- Unmanned Level Crossings on Broad Gauge network to be eleiminated by 2020.
- Railways will seek international assistance on improving safety preparedness.
- Slew of measures on passenger safety including SMS-based “Clean my coach” service and a “Coach Mitra” facility.
- A plan to fit bio toilets in all coaches by 2019, and solid waste management plants will be progressively set up.
- 500 stations will have facilities for differently abled passengers this year in terms of lifts and escalators.
- Dedicated trains will be launched to reach tourism and pilgrimage centres.
For want of funds, arrears on track renewals have been accumulating. This has led to a disproportionately high maintenance effort and reduced reliability of assets.
The Railways has a network of 1,14, 907km of track. Of this, 4,500km should be annually renewed. However, financial constraints had deterred the progress on track renewals in the last six years.
With a spate of derailments and accidents in recent months , the demand for a safety fund had gained momentum. It is to be noted that the Railways has the worst record among all countries in terms of the number of passengers killed.
The 2011 high level safety review committee, headed by Dr Anil Kakodkar, had estimated an expenditure of ₹1,03, 110 crore over a five-year period for implementing its recommendations.
“Work on eliminating the unmanned level crossings (ULCs) – which account for 40% of all rail-related deaths – will be taken up at a faster pace. We will target the elimination of such crossings on broad gauge lines by 2019,” Jaitley said.
The Railways is estimated to have 11,563 ULCs. A cost of ₹39,001 crore is needed for completing ongoing works on road overbridges, low height subways and elimination of ULCs.
The rail safety fund will be used for safety works, including upgrade of mainline coaches with smoke and fire detection systems, developing crash worthy buffers and works relating to replacement of overaged traction distribution assets.
While the initial seed capital of ₹5,000 crore will come from the government, the RSRK corpus is planned to be met through a contribution of ₹10,000 crore from the railways’ share in the central road fund and ₹5,000 crore from the internal resources of the Railways.
Such a fund was created when Nitish Kumar was the railways minister in 2003. Then, a safety surcharge had been imposed on passenger tickets to serve the loan of ₹17,000 crore.
But Jaitley hinted at no safety surcharge, saying that decisions on fare and freight tariffs would depend on four factors — the cost of service provided; quality of service offered ; social obligation commitments of the government; and competition from other forms of transport.
Jaitley also announced a plan to fit bio toilets in all coaches by 2019, while saying that solid waste management plants will be progressively set up.
As part of the drive to improve services, dedicated trains will be launched to tourism and pilgrimage centres, Jaitley said.
Speaking on the government’s “digital push” agenda, Jaitley announced the SMS-based “Clean-my-Coach” scheme and also announced the service charge waiver on passengers buying e-tickets from the Railways Catering and Tourism Corporation website.
Besides, 500 stations will have facilities for differently abled passengers this year in terms of lifts and escalators.
Jaitley also proposed introduction of a “Coach Mitra” facility to provide for a single-window interface for registration of all coach-related complaints and requirements by passengers.