All eyes on Bansal for tomorrow's Rail Budget

PK Bansal

All eyes will be on Railway Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal tomorrow on whether he yields to pressure of hiking passenger fares yet again or looks at other measures to mobilise resources to offset the burden of the recent diesel price hike.

Bansal had on January 22 hiked passenger fares across-the- board after the Railways faced a loss of about Rs 25,000 crore in the passenger segment.

Railways had aimed to mop up an additional revenue of Rs 6,600 crore but the fuel hike had wiped out Rs 3,300 crore, Bansal had said.

The Rail Minister held several round of discussions with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Finance Minister P Chidambaram and the Planning Commission in connection with the Rail Budget. He is also understood have discussed the possibility of fare hike with Congress president Sonia Gandhi.

However, sources said a section of the Congress is not inclined towards effecting another round of fare hike as general elections are not far away.

Bansal is all set to announce a slew of passenger-friendly measures such as improvement in catering service, maintaining cleanliness at rail premises, introducing Braille stickers in coaches for visually-challenged passengers and development of stations in his maiden Rail Budget.

While there are possibilities of minor tinkering in freight rates despite resistance from the industry due to the slow economy growth, there will be some announcements of freight schemes to attract more loadings in the next fiscal 2013-14.

With Bansal heading Rail Bhavan and the key ministry back with the Congress party after almost one-and-a-half decade, speculation is rife about announcement of 100 new trains including AC double deckers, extension and increase of some popular passenger services.

Though the Congress is opposing the Trinamool government in Bengal, MoS Railways Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury might have his say with likely provisions for new trains including Berhampur-Sealdah passenger, a direct train for New Jalpaiguri from the capital and pantry cars for Bengal-bound trains.

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