NEW DELHI: In a Railway Budget focused on enhancing passenger experience, Rail Minister Suresh Prabhu on Thursday announced multiple initiatives including better ticketing facilities, upgraded stations and cleaner trains.

Prabhu increased the funds allotment for passenger amenities by 67%. “We are launching initiatives that will systematically address customer concerns about cleanliness, comfort, accessibility, service quality and speed of trains,” Prabhu said.

“We are directing our efforts to make travel on Indian Railways a happy experience with a mix of various initiatives,” he said in the Rail Budget speech. We take a look at 15 main areas in Prabhu’s Rail Budget that will improve common man’s train journey:

1) Better ticketing facilities: You can now book your tickets four months in advance, as against a period of two months currently. The window for reserved ticket booking will be raised to 120 days versus the 60 days now, Prabhu said.

“Today one of the biggest problems faced by the common man intending to travel in unreserved class is purchasing a ticket. We are introducing ‘Operation Five Minutes’ to ensure that a passenger travelling unreserved can purchase a ticket within five minutes. Provision of modified ‘hotbuttons’, coin vending machines and ‘single destination teller’ windows will drastically reduce the transaction time,” Prabhu announced.

For the differently-abled travellers, a special initiative is being launched whereby they can purchase concessional etickets after one-time registration. “It is also proposed to work towards developing a multi-lingual e-ticketing portal. We will move towards crediting all refunds through the banking system,” Prabhu said.

In Central Railway, Western Railway and Southern Railway suburban sections, a pilot project of issuing unreserved tickets on smart phones has been started. “We hope to extend this facility progressively to all stations. Automatic ticket vending machines with smart cards and currency options have also been installed at many stations,” Prabhu said. “It is proposed to proliferate this further and also to introduce debit card operated machines. Introduction of integrated ticketing system on the lines of rail-cum-road tickets on Jammu – Srinagar route will be expanded,” he added.

2) No rail fare hike: Prabhu spared passengers from any hike in fares. For 10 years before 2012-13 there was no increase in rail fares. Then Railway Minister and Trinamool Congress leader Dinesh Trivedi had made an across-the-board hike in 2012-2013 but was made to roll back the hike in second and sleeper class categories.

Since then there have been hikes in passenger fares. Before the first Railway budget of the Modi government in July last, fares were increased by 14.2 per cent and freight rates by 6.5 per cent.

3) Helpline: An all-India 24X7 helpline number, 138, will become functional to attend to the problems of passengers on a real time basis. Passengers will be able to call up for complaints while on trains.

A mobile application to redress Railway-related complaints is also being developed. Railways intend to start this facility on a pilot project basis on Northern Railway from March 1, 2015. Based on the experienced gained and the feedback received from passengers, it will be extended to all Railways soon thereafter.

“Further, keeping in mind the criticality of security related issues, we have dedicated a toll-free number 182 for receiving security related complaints. Railways would utilise resources from the Nirbhaya Fund for augmenting security of our women passengers,” Prabhu said.

4) Catering: To provide freedom to passengers to select their meals from an array of choices including local cuisine, e-catering has been introduced in 108 trains on an experimental basis from January this year. Food can be ordered through the IRCTC website at the time of booking of tickets.

“We are working to integrate the best food chains in our country into this project. Depending on the response from our customers, the facility will be extended to cover more trains,” Prabhu said. “It is also intended to set up Base Kitchens in specified Divisions to be run by highly credible agencies for serving quality food,” he added.

According to Prabhu, at the moment water vending machines are sparse. “We will expand this to cover most Railway stations. This will ensure availability of clean drinking water at very low cost to the people apart from being an environment friendly measure,” he said.

5) Mobile phone charging: Mobile phone charging facilities would be provided in general class coaches and the number of charging facilities would be increased in sleeper class coaches.

6) Improved stations: Wi-Fi at all A1 and A category stations is being provided. Further, as part of Digital India initiative, Wi-Fi will be provided at B category stations as well.

So far, 1052 stations have been identified for upgradation of passenger amenities at Station under Adarsh station scheme. 200 more stations will be brought under this scheme.

Online booking of retiring rooms has already been initiated. The facility of self-operated lockers would also gradually be made available at stations. “It is proposed to provide concierge services through the IRCTC at major stations for the assistance of passengers for their pick up and drop. We will also provide a facility for online booking of wheel chair on payment basis for senior citizens, patients and the differently-abled passengers through IRCTC on select stations,” Prabhu said.

Lifts and escalators have been planned at major stations to facilitate easy movement of the elderly and differently-abled passengers.
7) Clean trains and stations: Railways propose to create a new department for keeping stations and trains clean. Integrated cleaning will be taken up as a specialized activity, which will include engaging professional agencies and also training staff in the latest cleaning practices.

Railways plan to set up ‘waste to energy’ conversion plants near major coaching terminals to dispose waste in an environment-friendly manner. One pilot plant will be set up, to begin with, followed by more plants in a phased manner.

“The condition of toilet facilities in our stations and trains needs major improvement. We will build new toilets covering 650 additional stations compared to 120 stations last year,” Prabhu announced. “Bio-toilets are being fitted in coaches. So far we have replaced the existing toilets with 17,388 bio toilets. This year we intend to replace another 17,000 toilets. Research, Design and Standards Organisation ( RDSO) has also been tasked with making available within a period of six months a design for vacuum toilets,” he elaborated.

The feasibility of a disposable bag along with bedroll for the purpose of collecting garbage is being considered. The coverage of built in dustbins will be extended to non-AC coaches as well.

8) Faster trains: “Average speed will increase. Trains will become more punctual,” Prabhu promised.

The speed of 9 railway corridors will be increased from the existing 110 and 130 kmph to 160 and 200 kmph respectively so that inter-metro journeys like Delhi-Kolkotta and Delhi-Mumbai can be completed overnight.

In the next five years, Railways’ priority will be to significantly improve capacity on the existing high-density networks.

9) SMS alert: Railways propose to introduce an “SMS Alert” service to inform passengers in advance the updated arrival/departure time of trains at starting or destination stations.

Similarly SMS alert would be sent 15/30 minutes in advance of arrival of the train at the destination.

10) Surveillance: For the safety of women passengers, surveillance cameras will be provided on a pilot basis in selected mainline coaches and ladies’ compartments of suburban coaches without compromising on privacy.

11) Comfort: Railways will launch a programme to improve design, quality and cleanliness of bed linen within the next six months. “We have approached NIFT, Delhi for designing bed linen,” Prabhu said.

Additionally, the facility of online booking of disposable bedrolls at select stations is being extended to all passengers through the IRCTC portal on payment basis. “We will increase the number of mechanized laundries,” he announced.

12) Use of technology: Hand-held terminals will now be provided to Travelling Ticket Examiners (TTEs), which can be used for verification of passengers and downloading charts.

“This system will help us to move towards paperless ticketing and charting and expedite finalization of refund claims apart from saving reams of paper. We are also exploring the idea of extending the facility of SMS on mobiles as a valid proof of travel for PRS tickets as well,” Prabhu explained.

“We are putting in place an integrated customer portal, which will be a single interface for the customers to access different services. Seamless navigation would be possible across different websites of Railways,” he said.

A centrally managed Railway Display Network is expected to be introduced in over 2,000 stations over the next two years which will aid in providing information on train arrival/departure, reservations, general and emergency messages and also any other information of interest to citizens.
13) Capacity: More berths will be made available through increase in number of coaches to meet the growing demand for confirmed seats on the trains. Trains, which are fully patronised throughout the year, will be augmented with additional coaches from trains which have relatively lower occupancy levels.

Further, capacity in identified trains will be augmented to run with 26 coaches from the existing 24 coaches. More General class coaches will be added in identified trains to benefit the common man.

For better customer experience Railways would focus on superior coach design and interiors. Indian Railways is collaborating with NID to develop ergonomically designed seats. Railways also intend to progressively replace all coaches with LHB design coaches.

14) Entertainment: Railways’ Delhi Division is taking up a project for introducing on-board entertainment on select Shatabdi trains on license fee basis.

Depending on the response, the facility will be extended on all Shatabdi trains.

15) Train sets: With a view to providing superior riding experience and about 20% savings in journey time, Railways propose to introduce a ‘very modern train system’ called train sets.

“These are similar to bullet trains in design and can run on existing tracks without an engine to haul them. For the Railways it would imply higher capacity, greater energy savings and increased throughput,” Prabhu explained. “We hope that the first set of these trains would be running on our system within the next two years,” he added.