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Railway minister not likely to hike fares in rail budget

Rail minister Mamata Banerjee, facing assembly elections in West Bengal in two months, could also announce a slew of projects for her state, including a rail link connecting the busy Howrah and Sealdah stations

New Delhi: Railways are unlikely to carry out any major changes in passenger fares in the rail budget for the eighth year in succession, even as more than 100 new trains could be announced, including a dozen non-stop Durontos, reports PTI.

The rail budget 2011-12, to be presented in Lok Sabha tomorrow, could also find mention of mega base kitchens in the metros preparing 50,000 to 1 lakh meals per day for the train passengers. This would be managed by railway itself as per the new catering policy, sources said.

Rail minister Mamata Banerjee, facing assembly elections in West Bengal in two months, could also announce a slew of projects for her state, including a rail link connecting the busy Howrah and Sealdah stations running through the densely populated central districts of Kolkata.

Catering to the student community, she could also announce running of student special trains keeping in mind the travel requirement during examinations and trains with only bookings under Tatkal scheme.

A multi-mode transport system between Hyderabad and Secunderabad is likely to find a mention in the budget along with capacity enhancement of the Mumbai suburban rail system.

Ms Banerjee could also announce measures to step up work on the dedicated Rail Freight Corridors project which is lagging behind schedule, while the national transporter would continue to maintain the dynamic pricing policy in freight.

The finance ministry is likely to grant Rs20,000 crore as gross budgetary support though the Railways had sought about Rs39,000 crore from the Centre, the sources said.

As a last ditch effort, Ms Banerjee has reached out to the Planning Commission for approval of many of her pet projects even as the former is understood to be hesitant in accepting most of them.

Sources said the Commission has accepted 14 of the 40 rail projects which she had planned to announce during the rail budget.

An SMS-based service for passengers to lodge complaints against rail services is also likely to be announced.

The sources said the number 132 is being finalised for lodging complaints through SMS from anywhere in the country.

Like the inquiry number 131, new number 132 will be an all-India service.

The budget comes at a time when the Railways are facing financial crunch with its operating ratio inching close to 100 level mark. "So there will be a few measures for generation of more internal resources," they said.

A new industrial park, a green toilet manufacturing plant in Nagpur and new coaching complexes at places like Haldia and Majerhat could also figure in the budget.

For the north-east, a new diesel loco shed is expected to come up in Assam keeping the growing traffic in the region and strategic importance of the place.

More DMU trains are also likely in the budget for the north-east, as the Railways propose to introduce new Duronto services from Guwahati to New Delhi and Howrah.

With a view to attracting investment, the Railways are likely to announce a few schemes involving private players for the expansion of its network.

Besides the gauge conversion and doubling of lines, the rail budget will also have a few proposals for socially desirable projects in backward regions.

"An attempt has been made to accommodate demands from every region, including suggestions from many MPs. So there will be something for every state," the sources said.

Setting up of more Jana Aahar outlets at several stations would be announced to provide quality food at reasonable rates to passengers.

Keeping the safety aspect in mind, the budget is expected to lay focus on installation of safety-related equipment like train protection warning system (TPWS) and anti-collision device (ACD) at some dense routes.

With trains becoming soft targets for terror attacks, the Railways will spell out an action plan to tackle the situation.

Security upgradation at sensitive stations, recruitment of RPF personnel, deployment of security forces at important trains and close coordination with state governments are some of the plans to be highlighted in the budget proposals.

With back-to-back agitation by the Gujjars and the Jat community, the Railways which suffered losses, are likely to announce measures to address the issue.

Installation of two bio-diesel plants is to be announced as the Railways embark on a green mission to cut air pollution and reduce diesel consumption.

The Railways are likely to set a target for raising production target of wagons, coaches and locomotives for the 2011-12 fiscal.

A commitment on the high-speed corridor and progress made so far about the ambitious project could also figure in the budget.

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