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On-board entertainment, SMS alerts, Wi-Fi on cards with tech friendly Rail Budget 2015

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KOLKATA: In a 70-minute consumer-focused speech that carried the distinct imprint of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Indian Railways Minister Suresh Prabhu on Thursday presented a slew of measures that introduced mobile friendly facilities for passengers.

While presenting his first maiden Budget, the minister in Lok Sabha proposed to offer on-board entertainment facilities in the railways on similar lines as provided by some aircrafts. Initially, this on-board entertainment facility would be extended on select Shatabdi trains on a license fee basis.

Additionally, SMS alert services to inform passengers of delay and departure timings for trains is also on the cards. “SMS alert to be introduced for train timings,” said the minister.

In order to give passengers more accessibility and connectivity at stations, the minister also proposed that Wi-Fi would to be made available at 400 railway stations. It should be noted that recently the Delhi railway station got Wi-Fi connected.

Not only this, the government also plans to develop a mobile application to address complaints of people.

Commenting on the mobile alerts, free Wi-Fi and technology friendly Budget, experts said that these applications would be particularly useful in locations where fog season means inevitable delays up to 24 hours and cancellations. “A prior SMS alert system will help ensure that travelers do not end up waiting at the station only to find out that their train has been cancelled. Now people will not mind to travelling by trains,” said an expert.

It should be noted that Prabhu did not talk about the application in details or how the app will help in dealing with passengers’ complaints.

The minister also announced that charging facilities for mobile phones would be extended in all trains and stations. “Mobile charging stations will be introduced in general class coaches,” he said.

Additionally, in order to make ticketing more passenger friendly the Budget also proposed “operation five minutes” for issuing unreserved tickets, hot buttons, coin vending machines, concessional e-tickets for differently-abled travelers, for booking tickets a multi-lingual e-portal will be developed. “Passenger travelling unreserved can procure a ticket within five minutes,” he said.

Prabhu also stated that the government aims to create a multilingual e-ticketing system, which will be encouraging for those might not be comfortable in English.

The Railways is further drawing up comprehensive policy to tap latent advertising potential.

Lastly, a good-Internet linked initiative that was announced was that food can be ordered from the IRCTC website at the time of booking. The minister said that, “E-catering has been introduced on some trains on experimental basis, depending on the response, it will be extended.”

Highlights

• The key themes of the Railway Budget were in line with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s initiatives - Swachch Bharat Mission, Make in India and Digital India.

• SMS alert to be introduced for train timings

• Wi-Fi to be available at 400 railway stations

• On-board entertainment facility could be extended on Shatabdi trains

• Mobile charging stations will be introduced general class coaches

• Passenger travelling unreserved can procure a ticket within five minutes

• Mobile application to address complaints of people is also being developed

• Hand-held devices for ticket checkers for moving towards paperless ticketing

• Drawing up comprehensive policy to tap latent advertising potential

Railway Budget 2015, according to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, is a forward looking, futuristic and passenger centric budget, combining a clear vision and a definite plan to achieve it.

“This is a watershed moment for Railways, marking a paradigm shift from discussing coaches and trains to comprehensive railway reform. I am particularly delighted that for the first time, there is a concrete vision for technology upgradation and modernisation of the Railways. The Railway Budget lays out a clear roadmap to make the Railways the key driver of India`s economic growth, playing a key role in India`s progress. Railway Budget 2015 stands out for its focus on the common man, putting speed, scale, service and safety, all on one track," the Prime Minister said.

Reacting to the maiden railway budget, Kotak Securities head-private client group research Dipen Shah said, “The first railway budget of Suresh Prabhu sets a vision for Indian railways, striving to make it the prime mover of the economy, once again.”

The prime focus of the minister is in enhancing its operations, targeting operating ratio at 88.5 per cent for FY16 from 91.8 per cent in FY15. “Budget carves out various resource mobilisation routes, moving away from budgetary supports. He has proposed to part-finance the ambitious five-year investment plan of Rs 8.56trn through funds from foreign institutions, pension funds, states, PSUs and PPPs both in form of equity and debt through SPVs. Focus is more on implementation and improving the service quality rather than on big bang announcements. Focus is also on commercial viability as much as it is on social welfare. We believe that, efficient execution of these initiatives will indeed improve the passenger revenues while also attracting more freight traffic to railways,” he added.

According to Shah, while change in freight fares seems cosmetic in nature, no change in passenger fare is welcome move, since fuel cost has come down significantly over the period.

The markets have likely been disappointed by the absence of several big announcements relating to the dedicated freight corridors or other capex programmes as well as finer details on FDI / PPP financing. “However, the focus on effective implementation, improving the operating ratio as well as on new initiatives bodes well for the railways in the long term. We expect the focus on deficit as well as reforms to be reflected in the Union Budget, and we will watch out for the same,” concluded Shah.

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