The Budget to be presented by Railway Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal is likely to focus on Public- Private Partnerships, especially for upgradation of Railway Stations. There is an expectation that Mr Bansal may announce the starting of half a dozen semi-Bullet trains.
These are trains which have a speed of 100 km to 200 km per hour. There is speculation that Mr Bansal may carry out a fare hike—whether direct or indirect- rationalisation of freight charges, and special focus on speeding up the development of freight corridors, which have been slow due to paucity of funds. There is likely to be special focus on the development of Railways in the North East.
After 17 years, a Congress Minister is in charge of the Railways, thus there is a view that Congress-ruled states may get some attention. This is the Last Railway Budget before the General Elections and thus there can be announcement of populist measures such as the enhancement of the number of trains. Railway Budget 2013-14 may not be controversial as was the case last year, when the then Minister Dinesh Trivedi had to lose his job as he raised fares, which was not to the liking of his boss Mamata Banerjee.
The day he took over as the Railway Minister, Mr Bansal had said safety of the passengers is a foremost priority for the Railways than any other project. Months later and a few hundred more deaths later at unmanned railway crossings and following the stampede at the Allahabad railway station, all reports on railway safety, including that of the Kakodkar committee, there is little that has been done. The Kakodkar committee, set up in the aftermath of the derailment of the Kalka Mail near Fatehpur in July 2011, had submitted its report last February.
It had proposed far-reaching measures to improve the national transporter’s safety record. It had suggested Rs one lakh crore of investment, half of it coming as gross budgetary support (GBS) and the rest by charging a safety cess on tickets, over five years to improve the safety of rail passengers. This will constrain Mr Bansal from announcing too many new trains in his debut rail budget speech. His predecessor had announced 175 new trains in the last budget.
There was criticism that this has not kept in view the already overloaded rail lines. This level of load would be unable to handle the load in running of new trains. The Kakodkar Committee had stated that this is a major safety hazard. Reports say the rail budget is also expected to announce the manufacturing of 4,200 new coaches, of which only 600 are the new lightweight LHB design. The Committee had strongly recommended stopping the production of ICF coaches and switching completely to LHB ones, but with only one LHB coach factory at Kapurthala, the railways continues to rely on ICF coaches. The Committee had also recommended installing automatic train protection equipment in trains.