Treading cautiously on an election year, Railway Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal said there is no increase in passenger fare in the budget for 2013-14 which was presented on Tuesday in Parliament while the Minister amid a din in the House announced 67 new express trains.
He suggested a 5 percent average increase for freight charges.
Bansal said since on Jan 22 this year the fare was hiked he does not pass on additional burden and an impact of Rs 850 crore owing to that would be absorbed by the Railways.
The hike in January was 21 per cent but the Rs. 6000 crore additional revenue it targetted from the hike was offset by the increase in the price of diesel or High Speed Diesel (HSD).
Diesel price hike cost Rs. 3,300 crore to fuel bill of Railways, said the railway minister.
He hiked reservation charges for superfast trains along with tatkal charges.
He announced concessional travel for sportspersons and amenities for differently-abled passengers. He said wheelchairs and escalators will be made available on stations and trains will be friendlier for the differently-abled.
Bansal said any rise in fare should not be viewed as profit generation, adding that it is for safety and cleanliness and better overall facilities.
He said to raise Rs.s 95,000 crore in the next four years of the 12th five-year plan, "Indian railways must remain financially sustainable."
He promised mountain rails in India like in Austrian and Swiss Alps and also introduction of luxury coaches.
He said Rs 3,000 crore loan from Finance Ministry was re-paid with interest by Railways.
He also announced new coach manufacturing and maintenance facilities in places like Rae Bareli, Bhilwara, Sonepat, Kalahandi, Kolar, Palakkad and Pratapgarh.
"I propose 67 new express trains, 27 passenger trains, 5 EMU services, 8 MEMU services and 58 trains will be extended," he said.
The minister also informed of a target of 500 km of new lines in the new budget year.
Bansal said 47,000 vacancies for weaker sections and physically challenged will be filled up. He said a total of 1.2 lakh vacancies in Railways will be filled up.
The opposition called the budget disappointing.
"It is high on promises but there is nothing new or no imagination. It is full of cliches," said BJP leader Balbir Punj.
The Minister envisaged an investment of Rs 63360 core in 2014.
While presenting the Railway Budget 2013-14, Bansal said rail accidents have come down but he targetted to reduce them further with more measures.
"Safety is a mandate in running trains. There has been a significant reduction in accidents . From .41 per million kms in 2003-04 it has come down to .13 in 2011- 12," he said adding that his ministry will try to work towards a zero accident situation.
He claimed there has been a significant reduction of train accidents.
Elimination of over 10,000 level crossings was promised by the minister who also assure of enhancement of the track capacity and the Train Protection Warning System (TPWS).
He said indigenously developed collision avoidance system will be put on trial while self-propelled accident relief trains along with fast and reliable disaster management system was promised.
The Allahabad stampede that killed many Maha Kumbh pilgrims this month has shaken the railway and so more contingency plans are afoot, said Bansal as he began presenting the Railway Budget 2013-14.
"I am pained by the Allahabad incident," Bansal said adding that it has shaken him and he proposed higher level of contingency arrangement.
He said another eight units of RPF will be set up for women protection from the existing four. He said RPF personnel will be strengthened.
Security helpline numbers in few zonal railways are there, he said.
He assured of more ladies specials in metros.
He said there would be bio-toilets on trains and cleanliness will be priority. He announced a toll free number 1800111321 for passenger to lodge their grievance.
He said Rs 100 crore will be spent to augment facilities at Delhi, New Delhi and Nizamuddin railway stations and special emphasis will be on stations in NCR (National Capital Region).
He also promised Free wi-fi facilities at railway stations and more e-ticketing services.
Bansal said passenger trains has increased from 8000 in 2001 to over 12000 in 2012 in number but losses continue to rise. It is estimated to be Rs 24,000 cr in 2012-13, he said.
"Scarcity of resources continues to star us," he said after beginning his budget speech.
While a hike in railway fares was the big questions and the minister did not raise the fare, many say it is a necessity to bring back the services on the track, passengers across India said they want better railway facilities.
"We are ready to pay a little extra fare for safety, and cleanliness and improvement in food quality," said 35-year-old Raju Verma, a railway passenger at New Delhi station who arrived from Kolkata.