New Delhi: Railway commuters looking forward to travelling in swanky coaches will have to wait—the Railway Board has put riders on the national carrier’s coach refurbishment plans.

The Railway Board has directed its zonal offices to refurbish only air conditioned class coaches—both LHB (Linke Hofmann Busch) and ICF (Integral Coach factory) coaches—under phase 1 with the cost of refurbishment of each coach limited to a maximum of Rs10 lakh.

The Railway Board in a circular dated 18 July accessed by Mint told its zonal offices that the refurbishing will be done every sixth year along with the periodic overhauls. The decision was taken in presence of railway board chairman Ashwani Lohani and finance commissioner A. K. Prasad.

The decision runs counter to Railways’ earlier plan. In June 2017, then railway minister Suresh Prabhu had launched a program to refurbish railway coaches. Under it, Indian Railways had planned to refurbish around 40,000 coaches costing Rs30 lakh for each coach. The plan was to refurbish 40,000 railways coaches by 2022-2023.

The program was initiated to give a new-look and world class ambience to the age old coaches of Indian Railways with basic amenities. Coaches were to be refurbished by modifying berths, installing reading and LED lights, modular bio-toilets, anti-grafitti coating, fire and smoke detection system, more mobile and laptop charging ports and small LCD screens in Shatabdis.

A senior railway official on condition of anonymity said, “Decision was taken keeping various factors in mind. One is paucity of funds, so we need to prioritize work. Since AC class in trains is expensive and gives revenue to railways so a need was felt to provided luxurious interiors to this class passengers to retain them and not lose them to air travel. Secondly, every year 5,000 new coaches are being manufactured and even they need to be inducted."

He added that the earlier plan was that the work would be outsourced centrally, while now it is the responsibility of general managers of 17 zones in which Indian Railways is divided.

However, zonal railways officers are upset with the move. A general manager of one of the zonal railways who didn’t wish to be identified said, “The government has already portrayed a picture of refurbished coaches with modern facilities. Reducing funding by one-third will either reduce the quality of work or the kind of infrastructure to be introduced in the refurbished coaches."

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