To begin with, there will be no increase in the price of passenger fares this year.
Instead, railway minister Suresh Prabhu has promised an affordable, safer, cleaner and technologically advanced train journey to Indians in his first budget.
“I have not increased the passenger fares. We are directing our efforts to make travel on Indian railways a happy experience with a mix of various initiatives,” Prabhu said in his budget speech. “I am happy to inform the house that this year we have increased the funds allotment for passenger amenities by 67%.”
At a time when railways is facing stiff competition from low-cost airlines, these “mix of various initiatives” can go a long way in improving the world’s perception of Indian trains.
The minister— whose speech lasted little over an hour and included references to Marathi writer Shubhada Gogate and yoga missionary Swami Vivekanand—said he connected directly with train passengers on social media while preparing the budget and received over 20,000 suggestions, many of which were incorporated.
Here are the new conveniences Indian train travellers can expect in the coming years:
There will be a round-the-clock helpline number (182) to attend to grievances of female passengers from any part of the country. This is in addition to a helpline number (138) for all passengers who can lodge a complaint in real time. A mobile app is in the works, too.
For the safety of women passengers, the rail minister also promised surveillance cameras on select routes and ladies’ compartments in suburban coaches.
The government has promised a bigger quota of lower berths for pregnant women.
Prime minister Narendra Modi’s Clean India movement will get a huge boost from the railway minister, who made Swachh Rail—or Clean Railways—one of his priorities. A new department will be created to make Indian trains and platforms cleaner. Environment-friendly waste-to-energy conversion plants will be set up near major coaching terminals.
Maintaining toilets—which can be a consistent nightmare on Indian trains—is tall order, but the rail minister hopes to improve their condition by installing newer fittings. This year 17,000 existing toilets on coaches will be replaced with with bio-toilets, and new toilets would build in 650 stations. Meanwhile, vacuum toilets, where waste is cleaned using air instead of water, are being designed in the next six months.
Garbage disposal bags would be installed in non-AC trains this year, along with clean water-vending machines.
The minister plans to bring in more comfortable seats, which would be designed by the National Institute of Design. In addition, the institute will design “user-friendly” ladders, which will be used to climb to the upper berths in coaches.
Even the bed linen would be re-designed at the National Institute of Fashion Technology.
In addition, there will be lifts and escalators at major stations.
Passengers often have to stand in long queues while purchasing tickets at the stations. Prabhu wants to reduce the time taken to buy an unreserved ticket to five minutes. ”Provision of modified ‘hot- buttons’, coin vending machines and ‘single destination teller’ windows will drastically reduce the transaction time,” he said.
The rail minister had a lot on offer for differently-abled passengers and patients—from online booking of wheelchairs and braille-enabled new coaches to a possibility of wider entrances for stretchers to easily pass through.
There will also be a larger quota of lower berths, and lifts and escalators at major stations, for the benefit of elderly and differently-abled passengers. They can even purchase e-tickets at a cheaper rate after a one-time registration.