Railway Budget: Now, Book Train Tickets 120 Days in Advance, no increase passenger fares

Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu Presenting Rail Budget 2015
Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu Presenting Rail Budget 2015

New Delhi : The advance booking period for train tickets will be raised from 60 to 120 days, Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu said on Thursday. The move is likely to benefit millions of railway passengers.

The Railways had reduced the advance booking period from four months to two months effective May 1, 2013 in a bid to prevent touts to corner bulk tickets.

The BSE Sensex fell as much as 300 points in late afternoon trade on Thurday. There was a clear sense of disappointment that Mr Prabhu did not increase train fares.

Analysts also raised concerns that Mr Prabhu has not given specifics about how he plans to raise resources for his ambitious expansion plan.

“We have to see how rest of funding is going to happen through the year,” said Biswanath Bhattacharya of KPMG.

Analysts like Abhaya Agarwal of EY, however, termed Mr Prabhu’s Budget as a “rockstar” Budget. “Whatever you wanted to hear in terms of productivity, investments…it is there.” he said.

Manish Sharma of PwC said Mr Prabhu has put a high emphasis on kick starting the capex cycle. “I am surprised the way markets are reacting,” he said

Suresh Prabhu announced no new trains in his Railway Budget today, a first. He also said that there will be no increase in passenger fares, disappointing markets, which tanked 300 points.

In a 70-minute consumer-focused speech that carried the distinct imprint of Prime Minister Narendra Modi – Mr Prabhu referenced his pet schemes like Swachch Bharat, Digital India and Make in India – the rail minister emphasised that the “vicious cycle of underinvestment” must end in the bleeding Railways.

PM Modi tweeted, “#RailBudget2015 is a forward looking, futuristic & passenger centric budget, combining a clear vision & a definite plan to achieve it,” also expressing delight that, “for the 1st time there is a concrete vision for technology upgradation & modernisation of the Railways.”

The Rail Budget was watched keenly for pointers to what the Union budget – billed as a make-or-break presentation on Saturday – will hold.

While some analysts have hailed it as “rockstar” Rail Budget, others have wondered at the lack of specifics in it on how Mr Prabhu plans to raise resources for ambitious expansion plan.

The railway minister said investment in the overloaded railway network would be increased to Rs. 8.5 lakh crore over the next five years, promising to modernise existing tracks and introduce faster trains. The proportion of rail revenue available for investments would rise to 11.5 percent in the fiscal year starting on April 1, up from 8.2 per cent in the current fiscal year, Mr Prabhu said.

“Over the next five years, the Railway has to go through a transformation,” the minister said listing cleanliness, safety, modernization of infrastructure and making the railways financially self-sustainable as his four big goals. “We have to make Indian Railways a benchmark organisation in safety, security and infrastructure,” he said, inviting private participation.

“There will be no hike in railway passenger fares. We will focus on improving passenger amenities,” the minister said. Markets and industry had hoped for a fare increase as a signal of the government’s intent to end profligate populism. The railways incur a loss of Rs. 26,000 crore on passenger fares, which is cross-subsidized by freight fares.

In a slew of passenger focussed facilities the minister also introduced what he called “Operation 5 mins, which allows passengers traveling unreserved to buy a ticket “within five minutes of entering the station.”

17000 more toilets would be replaced by bio-Toilets and new toilets would be built at 650 stations, he said, announcing efforts to “transform” railway stations, he said, adding that there would soon be mobile charging facilities in general compartments and wi-fi in category B stations.

His priority, he said, was also to significantly improve capacity over the next five years.

Mr Prabhu’s induction as India’s Railway Minister three months ago was touted by analysts as proof of the Modi government’s reformist agenda. Known for his performance as Power Minister in 2002, Mr Prabhu, 61, faces huge expectations on a turnaround for the bleeding Railways whose finances are under terrible strain.

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