Safer rail travel was high on Finance Minister Arun Jaitley's agenda in the Union Railway budget that was announced this morning. With maximum focus on safety, Jaitley allotted over R1,00,000 crore for a new Rail Safety Fund, which would be utilised in the next five years. The development comes following a series of rail accidents during the last one year.

Safe watch
Jaitley announced that unmanned level crossing gates across India would be shut by 2020. These gates have been a major cause of accidents, especially in the rural areas.

The need for increasing the safety in the railways is the need of the hour, especially in Mumbai. Every year, on an average 3,400 to 3,600 people die on the city’s tracks. “There is a need to build concrete walls along the tracks to prevent people from crossing rail lines. At many places, the people break the walls,” said Subhash Gupta, president, Rail Yatri Sangh. According to a source, the government will be drawing clear-cut guidelines to improve the existing norms, as far as safety is concerned.

Sprucing up stations
The railways will be signing joint ventures with nine state governments, mainly to ensure overall development of stations. Around 25 stations have already been identified and work has begun for a few. Moreover, there are plans to have escalators and lifts at 500 stations across India.

The Centre is also going to install solid waste management plants across stations, which would recycle and dispose all kinds of garbage found on the tracks and inside trains.

Going green
In order to cut down on the railways’ electricity usage, at least 7,000 stations across India will be solar-powered. The government aims to generate at least 20,000 MW of electricity through this initiative.

Other plans
To further encourage the use of cashless transactions, the railways has withdrawn service charges levied by the IRCTC. While no immediate announcement was made on the tariff hike, Jaitley added that it would be based on the cost incurred for running trains and the service provided at stations. Another key announcement was the establishment of a Metro Rail Policy, which will bring all metros in India under its ambit.