The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Railway minister all set to wow again

New Delhi, Feb. 24 (PTI): Railway minister Lalu Prasad (in picture) is set to unveil another “feel-good” budget on Monday. Ministry sources claimed that “on-board entertainment” in trains, on the lines of commercial airlines, is hot on the announcement list of the minister.

The ministry appears to have received bids from a number of companies, including Reliance Infocom, Adlabs, Tata and Sahara. The bids are yet to be finalised. The service is likely to be introduced in phases, starting with the Shatabdi trains.

Fast-food chains and installing vending machines for beverages and food items are among other innovative steps Lalu Prasad is expected to announce. “Our effort is to turn around the image of the railways through services available at the stations and the food served on trains,” said IRCTC chairman P.K. Goel.

Some of the measures are already in place, said Rail Bhavan sources. Making railway tickets available at petrol pumps and ATMs, SMS alerts to consumers and call centre facilities will be introduced to enhance the railway’s new consumer-friendly image. Railways is learnt to have entered into a contract with a consortium, comprising BSNL, to launch 24-hour call centres with the all-India number 139.

Also in the pipeline are facilities like car rentals and value-added tour packages through websites. Passengers might be offered a more variable menu. Arrangements are also being made to provide special diet for the elderly and the sick. Food served in trains will be brought on a par with the airlines, sources privy to the budget proposals said.

The minister is also expected to come out with a comprehensive strategy to enhance safety of trains. Introducing fire-proof coaches, upgrading technology to avert collisions caused by human errors and seeking the help of states to rebuild or repair railway bridges are some of the measures discussed in Rail Bhavan in recent weeks.

There are as many as 51,340 rail bridges which are more than 100 years old and many of them happen to be in dilapidated condition.

Proposal to set up a captive power plant, more optimum utilisation of existing trains by introducing more routes and improving technology to achieve energy-efficiency are also up the railway minister’s sleeves, claimed sources ahead of the railway budget.

Electrification of more tracks and use of non-conventional energy like bio-diesel to run trains are some of the other measures being contemplated by the minister.

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