Luxury Anubhuti class to pamper passengers

In a bid to provide comforts and facilities comparable to full-service airlines, Indian Railways will introduce a new “hyper luxury” class for those willing to pay more, Railway minister Pawan Kumar Bansal announced on Tuesday.

To be called ‘Anubhuti’, this class will use new coaches that will be manufactured exclusively at the coach factory in Rae Bareli at an additional cost of Rs 30 lakh per coach. While Anubhuti ticket prices are still being worked out, senior officials said it is expected to be around 40-50 per cent more than executive class on Shatabdi Express.

For now, every Shatabdi Express and a few short-distance Rajdhanis will have one such coach. If the response is encouraging, the Railways may roll out entire trains of Anubhuti coaches.

Each Anubhuti coach will be fitted with ergonomically designed cushions, LCD video screens and thermo-foamed interiors for maximum comfort. There will be state-of-the-art illumination with energy efficient lighting, automatic doors and a spacious aisle for better on-board services such as catering. The latest nano-paint technology will be used on the interiors and exterior.

Anubhuti will have modular toilets so far unseen on Indian Railways, as per plans drawn up by the Railway Board. They will come with free toiletries, and will be zero-discharge units. Passengers will be able to book services they need on these coaches through SMS, phone or email.

Published in: on February 27, 2013 at 5:11 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Connectivity between coalmines to be enhanced

Addressing the Coal Ministry’s concerns about taking up rail projects linking coalmines on a priority basis, the Railways is planning to invest about Rs. 4,000 crore for enhancing connectivity and giving a thrust to the availability of coal for the power sector.

This initiative is part of the Railways’ plan to invest up to Rs. 9,000 crore for providing connectivity to ports, coalmines and iron ore mines. While presenting the budget, Railway Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal said the recently revamped participative policy enabling partnership with ports, large mines, industry and investors addresses the specific concerns of private investors.

“The models seek to create a win-win situation by ensuring payback of investment mainly through freight apportionment. An investment of up to Rs. 9,000 crore is expected under these projects including Rs. 3,800 crore for port connectivity projects, Rs. 4,000 crore for coal mine connectivity and Rs. 800 crore for iron ore mines connectivity improvements,” he said.

Lack of rail connectivity is among the many problems that companies face while transporting fuel from the coal mines to their power projects. These logistical issues also impact overall electricity generation.

The Coal Ministry last month warned of serious implications, including severe shortage of coal for thermal power plants, for the southern States of Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka and many northern and western States if three important railways lines connecting coal fields in Jharkhand, Odisha and Chhattisgarh were not completed in the next three years.

Railways left to fend for themselves

The Railways have been left to fend for themselves as a result of which the plan expenditure for 2013-14 has been pegged at Rs. 63,363 crore, just marginally more than the budget estimate for 2012-13 of Rs. 60,100 crore, which was revised downwards to Rs. 52,265 crore.

One of the reasons for the far from robust outlay is that the gross budgetary support is only to the tune of Rs. 26,000 crore, which was up by a meagre Rs. 2,000 crore from the allocation in 2012-13.

The crucial point about the projected plan expenditure is that it is banking upon a contribution of Rs. 6000 crore through the PPP route. Only time will tell if that gets realised.

The Railways are expecting their share of Rs. 2000 from the Road Safety fund, generate internal resources of Rs. 14,260 crore and raise money from the market to the tune of Rs. 15,103 crore.

How bad the railways are placed could be gauged from the fact that they intend to construct only 500 km. of new lines, 750 km. of doubling of lines and 450 km. of gauge conversion.

In 2012-13, construction of new lines was scaled down from the targeted 700 km. to 470 km., similarly gauge conversion too was scaled down to 575 km. from the target of 800 km. Only in the case of doubling the target of 700 km. will be exceeded marginally during the current fiscal.

Therefore it is not surprising that the fund appropriated to the Railway Development Fund has been slashed to Rs. 3,550 crore only for 2013-14. In 2012-13 the allotment was Rs. 10,557 crore, but revised downwards to Rs. 9,984 crore.

All this despite passing through the hike in diesel prices and electricity charges to the freight consumers and the promise to revise fares and freight charges at least twice a year to take care of possible hikes in fuel charges. Another hike could be expected in October perhaps.

During the current financial year, the failure to meet the goods and passenger targets led to a shortfall in revenue to the tune of Rs. 3,383 crore and 3,573 crore respectively for a total of Rs. 6,953 crore.

As a result of this the accounts have been revised to show a surplus of Rs. 10,409 crore from the projected Rs. 15,557 crore. This surplus has been managed by paying lower dividend and cutting down appropriation to the development fund by Rs. 4,574 crore. Only a dividend of Rs. 5,314.05 crore will be paid during the current fiscal instead of the targeted 6,650.34 crore.

Nevertheless, the Railways claimed they had brought the operating ratio down to 88.8 per cent during the current financial year and improve it to Rs. 87.8 crore and have a fund surplus of Rs. 12,000 crore.

The Ministry hopes to transport 1,047 million tonnes of freight, about 40 million tonnes more than this year while passenger growth is pegged at 5.2 per cent. The gross traffic receipts are expected to be around Rs. 1.43 lakh crore in 2013-14.

Rlys may lose freight traffic to road

The fuel adjustment component (FAC) introduced for rail freight is likely to push up the transport charges by 5.8% and may result in traffic moving away from the state-run transporter to trucks as moving goods by road will get even more attractive. The 5-6% decline in road freight rates over the past few months will add to the competitiveness of trucks, industry players said.

The freight increase will cost the Railways some of the premium cargo moved by it (such as cars) and help consolidate truck freight rates. “The dynamic fuel surcharge will result in a freight change twice a year. Rail transportation of cars will, therefore, become progressively more expensive as we are likely to see an upward revision in diesel prices,” said R Sethuraman, director, finance and corporate affairs, Hyundai Motor India, which continues to use Railways along with road transport for movement of its vehicles.

At present, road transport sector has around 80% share of country’s freight, while Railways’ share has been steadily decreasing — from 32% in 2002 to 20% at present. Industry estimates suggest that the share of cement, which is one of the major bulk cargo items, has dropped by 8-9%. Items like iron ore, coal, steel, fertilizer, petrol product and cement constitute 90% of rail cargo. With transporters getting huge number of heavy duty and multi-axel trucks, some of these major cargos are also getting shifted to the road transport sector.

Absolute comparison of freight charges for each category of items shows that rail charges are less. But factors like safe delivery, continuous availability of booking and delivery point within business centres/markets and business hubs, along with personalized service and better claim settlement make road transport sector more attractive. About 95% of the parcel cargo is transported by road.

The new announcement has not gone down well with the market. “A 5% increase in freight rates from April 1 will generate higher revenues to Railways, but it also runs the risk of losing its already dwindling market share to roads and highways. While improvement in connectivity to mines is a welcome step, increase in freight will not only push up steel prices, it will also add to inflationary pressures,” said Dilip Oomen, MD, Essar Steel.

Industry experts said the focus should be on increasing the speed of cargo delivery than comparing whether it would entail loss for Railways or road transport. “We have a record of cargo moving 30 km per hour by road and 25 km by train, which is dismal. There is a need to bring down our logistic expense to 7% of GDP, which is at present 15% of our GDP,” said S P Singh, convener, Indian Foundation of Transport Research and Training, an advocacy group.

Anubhuti to give new travel experience

Railways on Tuesday proposed to introduce a modern coach ‘Anubhuti’ with good ambience in the premier Rajdhani and Shatabdi trains providing higher travel comfort to passengers.

The travelling fare in such a coach will be priced separately, railway minister Pawan Kumar Bansal announced in his Budget speech.

“With increased popularity of Shatabdi and Rajdhani trains, there is also a demand for higher travel comfort. Responding to this need, Railways will introduce one such coach in select trains which will provide an excellent ambience and latest modern facilities and services,” he said.

Such coaches will be named ‘Anubhuti’ with commensurate fare structure, he said.

He also announced the introduction of an educational tourist train ‘Azadi Express’ to connect places associated with freedom movement. Proposing the “Azadi Express”, Mr Bansal said that it would enable the youth of the country to travel to important places connected with the freedom movement.

Published in: on February 27, 2013 at 4:56 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Companies see bigger PPP role in railway projects

The government’s proposal to increase freight by 5% in the rail budget is set to impact major industries like steel, cement, coal and may also lead to marginal increase in power prices. But at the same time it has sought to offer many new projects to the private sector under the public private participation (PPP) route, enthusing India Inc.

Industry analysts that TOI spoke to believe the hike in coal freight charges will be neutral to the coal sector but will hit downstream sectors using coal such as power, cement and steel. Essar Steel managing director Dilip Oommen described the imposition of dynamic fuel-linked revisions in freight as a paradigm shift.

“Increase in freight will not only push up steel prices, it will also add to inflationary pressures,” he said.

Overall, however, industry is enthused with the move by railways to open up its doors for private sector participation, seeking a bigger role in a host of projects to be taken up through the PPP mode.

The budget has proposed that Rs 1 lakh crore of Rs 5.2 lakh crore of investments would be mobilized through the PPP route in the 12th Five Year Plan ending 2017. “PPP to the tune of Rs 1 lakh crore will open the doors for privatization in the railways. Latest technologies like for bullet trains, among others, can be brought into India,” Videocon Industries chairman Venugopal Dhoot told TOI.

Harsh Goenka, chairman RPG Enterprises, seemed equally enthused. “On-time execution of projects will need to be closely monitored,” he said.

India Inc sees a host of projects up for grabs by the private sector like the dedicated freight corridor (DFC), redevelopment of railway stations, power generation, energy-saving projects, freight terminal operations, setting up of wagon and locomotive units, gauge conversion and network expansion, among others.

Rajeev Jyoti, chief executive for railways business at L&T, feels that the budget reflects a paradigm shift in the thought process of the railways. “Moving to private sector will ensure higher productivity and railways can focus on its core strength of operations and maintenance,” he said.

However, the private sector seeks a clear road map on PPP for taking forward some of the more capital-intensive projects and is awaiting announcements on the policy front, highlighting the incentives for private sector. Manish Agarwal, executive director for capital projects & infrastructure at PwC India, believes that the readiness with respect to PPPs is still low, and it is better that the purpose and role of PPPs is better thought through before setting high expectations.

Hemant Kanoria, chairman, Srei Infrastructure Finance, said, “I am sure this budget would be followed by announcements on the policy front highlighting the incentives for private sector.”

Air fares out of reach, trains back in favour

Galloping operating costs for airlines have made train travel — if you can manage to get a confirmed ticket — way cheaper than flying even a low-cost carrier (LCC). Now, the only time flying is cheaper is when airlines engage in a price war and offer low, all-inclusive fares during lean travel periods.

A few years back, LCC fares were positioned closer to Rajdhani second AC fare levels. The idea was to convert train passengers into flyers. “There is no comparison between train and airfares now. Operating costs for airlines have shot up tremendously in India over the past two to three years. Today, average airfares start at over Rs 5,000-6,000 while earlier this was as low as Rs 2,500-3,000. Now, except for special offers from airlines, one cannot expect low-priced air tickets,” said Kapil Kaul of the Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation.

Travel agents report a massive shift from air travel to trains, leading to a sharp decline in the number of domestic air travellers in 2012 over the previous year. Thanks to the increase in airline costs, there is nothing like a low-fare airline now.

“Malaysian ultra LCC AirAsia is planning to start operations in India by the year-end in collaboration with the Tatas. But given the high-cost environment here — especially jet fuel prices and airport charges in places like Delhi — whether they manage to give low fares or not remains to be seen. Now the only way to get relatively cheap air tickets is to book months in advance as spot fares are sky-high,” said a travel agent.

Airlines say the government must rationalize jet fuel prices if airfares have to be lowered. “Jet fuel prices here for domestic airlines are among the highest in the world. This component alone accounts for over half of our operating cost. Unless this is rationalized, fares cannot go down. Let AirAsia or Captain G R Gopinath start their proposed new LCCs here; they too will need to offer fares at a certain level to survive,” said an airline official.

Published in: on February 27, 2013 at 4:48 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Mysore Railway museum will soon have model of steam engine

The Mysore Railway Museum is home to some warhorses which have done the length and breadth of the nation. The museum, set up by the Indian Railways in 1979, is the second such museum after the National Railway Museum, New Delhi. A model of a steam locomotive engine will soon be installed here. A toy train has also been a major attraction for children.

There are four indigenously designed steam locos, including one of the last steam locos, but they are non-operational.

Among others, what’s on offer for visitors is an exhibit on old mechanism, wherein trains chugged by burning combustible material, usually coal, wood or oil, to produce steam in a boiler. Both fuel and water supplies were carried on the locomotive, either on the locomotive itself or in wagons that it pulled.

Steam locomotive was synonymous with rail transport in the 19th century. As far Indian Railways was concerned, steam ruled the roost from 1853 till the middle of the last century, he said.

Kashi said the model of a steam engine was designed at Mysore divisional workshop. The model is fuelled with kerosene and installed at Mahrani’s Saloon, which is a prized possession of the museum.

A 6m track has been laid adjacent to the saloon to run the model. “The steam engine will certainly entertain the visitors, especially children,” he said, adding that they will install the steam locomotive engine in a month.

. The museum recently installed a new toy train run by diesel. The new train is fitted with three coaches, and each can accommodate 24 children. The earlier toy train was battery operated, and had two coaches.

The museum also has other coaches, equipment and records relating to Mysore State Railways, Indian Railways and railways in general.

The museum has a footfall of 200 per day. The entry fee is Rs 5 for adults and Rs 2 for children.

Pawan Kumar Bansal gives priority to strategic rail projects

Giving special emphasis on rail projects in bordering areas, Railway Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal in his rail budget has proposed new strategic schemes for those areas. Bansal announced over half a dozen strategic projects in the rail budget 2013-14.

Bansal said that government will complete the rail projects related to national security on priority basis. Several projects of national strategic importance including Udhampur-Srinagar-Baramula national project are being given special emphasis added the Railway Minister.

For the first time, Arunachal Pradesh will be on the railway map once the Harmoti-Naharlagun rail line is inaugurated. The government is working on new rail projects for Manipur added Bansal.

The Railway Minister also assured to expedite the rail projects being developed in the bordering areas of Uttarakhand, Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh and Punjab. Bansal also requested Finance Minister to provide adequate funds for the successful completion of these projects.

The railways have already laid about 10, 000 KM of rail network in the bordering areas. Despite, rail projects in those areas are progressing at snail’s pace. Defence Ministry had requested to speed up the projects of strategic importance as well as giving approval to the longtime projects.

Published in: on February 27, 2013 at 4:35 pm  Leave a Comment  

Rail Budget 2013: 15 measures that will cheer middle-class

From better e-ticketing facilities to free wi-fi on select trains, the railway budget will lead to implementation many passenger friendly measures. Here is a look at some of them:

1) e-ticketing through mobile phones. Project of SMS alerts to passengers providing updates on reservation status.

In his rail budget 2013 speech, Bansal said, “As a follow up to overwhelming response to the Indian Railways website and integrated train inquiry service under 193, a project of SMS alerts to passengers providing updates on reservation status is being rolled out shortly.”

2) Next-Gen e-ticketing system to be rolled out capable of handling 7200 tickets per minute against 2000 now & 1.20 lakh users simultaneously against 40,000 now.

Noting that congestion on the IRCTC website causes inordinate delay in accessing the system for e-ticketing, Bansal announced that by the end of this calendar year railways will put in place a next generation e-ticketing system. “This will bring about a paradigm shift in internet rail ticketing by significantly improving the end user experience with respect to ease of use, response time as well as capacity,” he said.

The system shall be able to support 7200 tickets per minute as against 2000 tickets per minute today, he added. Bansal further went on to say that the system will support 1,20,000 simultaneous users at any point in time against the present capacity of 40,000 users. It will have the capability to easily scale up as demand increases in future. “The system will make use of advance fraud control and security management tools thereby further improving transparency in sale of tickets,” Bansal explained.

3) Internet ticketing from 0030 hours to 2330 hours.

“I plan to roll out a more efficient and people sensitive railway service system. Some of the measures initiated or put are extending availability of the facility of internet booking from 12:30 AM to 11:30 PM, making e-ticketing possible through mobile phones,” Bansal said in his maiden railway budget speech.

4) Providing free Wi-Fi facilities on several trains.

5) Pilot project on select trains to facilitate passengers to contact on board staff through SMS/phone call/e-mail for coach cleanliness and real time feedback.

6) ‘Aadhar’ to be used for various passenger and staff related services. Aadhar can be helpful for Railways in many respect, from booking tickets to tracking pension of rail employees, Bansal said.

7) Enhanced reservation fee abolished.

8) 8-10 more mechanized laundries for quality washing of linen.