NEW DELHI: Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu feels that the first unified budget continued with the momentum of reforms that he has been pushing for the last two years. He talks about issues related to enhancing passenger safety, improving railway finances and reviewing rail tariff in an exclusive interview with Richa Sharma.
Q: Concerns about safety and funds allotted in budget
A: We are getting new technologies for avoiding the human interface in maintenance and creating infrastructure. There is a technology that you can know the problem in tracks remotely and we are exploring it. We are also planning to get international experts to ensure that the investment of Rs 1 lakh crore will go in way of upgrading the infrastructure and also address the safety. I have already issued a written order to railway board that we should make sure that expenditure is made in a proper manner and outcome be result oriented.
Q: Budget talks about competitive fare pricing
A: Pricing has to be a dynamic decision and it cannot be taken once a year. If the situation changes, we must change the decision. Keeping in mind the competition, keeping in mind new possibility, we need to have dynamic fare and that too in all categories whether premium or sleeper class. For the first time in the history of railways, we decided to lower fare prices when we saw trains are running empty.
Q: Introduction of flexi fare in premium trains
A: Experiment of flexi fare whether it was good or bad needs to be reexamined. We need to reexamine, whether it has benefited or not or if it served the purpose. I have told them (railway board) that it should be on an experimental basis and now it is time, I will ask the CRB (Chairman Railway Board) to reexamine it. I will tell them to look at it.
Q: Competition railway facing from airlines
A: We have to keep in mind premium passengers which are likely to migrate to low-cost airlines because there is a big competition and also the 95 percent of our passengers which have no choice but to travel in trains. In last 40-50 years, there is a constant decline because of increase in the road network, we have to have a separate focused strategy for both categories. We are starting different products for different kind of passengers.
Q: Railway declining freight and passenger earnings
A: There is a drop in coal loading and 50 percent of our total freight earning comes from coal. Besides, there has been change in policy with regards to imported coal. In January, we have loaded the highest amount of coal and we are likely to do better in February. I hope we will be able to close the year in a better way despite that this was the year of implementation of pay commission and for implementation of Bonus Act.
Q: Work done for improving passenger amenities
A: The Chardham rail connectivity has been announced and we have started the survey for one of the most difficult network. We are also thinking of taking railways to bordering areas like Twang not just for strategic purpose but providing connectivity to far flung communities. We are also thinking of connecting islands in the country.