An across-the-board cut in passenger fares, many new trains, concessions for students, women, senior citizens, and cleaner train travel were rolled out by railway minister Lalu Prasad as he sought to appeal to a wide range of passengers.
Fiscal 2007-08 has been declared as Cleanliness Year by Indian Railways, with the minister promising to improve hygiene at stations. The railways estimates they will carry 6.6 billion people in the coming financial year.
A train’s popularity will also play a role in determining the discount on passenger fares. For example, fares for newly-designed air-conditioned three-tier and air-conditioned chair-car coaches will be cut by 8% in the lean travel season, and 4% in the peak season. In popular trains such as Rajdhani Express, the cut is 4%.
Rates will also be cut in popular trains for air-conditioned two-tier and air-conditioned first-class by 2% and 3%, respectively. The speed surcharge on second-class tickets for super-fast trains may be cut by 20%. Fares for on-suburban ordinary passenger and non-superfast mail-express trains are also set to fall.
Prasad also supplemented passenger fare cuts with benefits for the underprivileged. The minister increased the number of unreserved coaches—offering the cheapest class of travel—from four to six in the new trains starting this year. He proposes to introduce 32 new trains and eight Garib Raths, or fully air-conditioned trains for the poor. Wooden seats will be replaced with cushioned seats, currently the preserve of coaches where travellers have to reserve berths for travel.
Senior citizens and women above 45 years will be able to avail of some spaces on the lower berths. For people with physical challenges, Prasad plans to roll out 1,250-odd specially designed coaches over the next two years. Vendor coaches will be provided for milk and vegetable vendors who use trains to transport their goods.
Prasad proposed installing 6,000 automatic ticket-vending machines in major cities over the next two years. Ticket checkers will be given palmtops, which will be linked to the central reservation system. He also promised activation of train-enquiry call centres that will provide SMS alerts.