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Friday, 27 February 2015

Big bag of goodies for passengers

Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu announced a lot of goodies for the common man such as better ticketing facilities, e-catering, an all India helpline number for any complaint related to the railways and ease of travel for the differently-abled and senior citizens.Nine more high-speed trains, faster existing trains, Wi-Fi in 400 stations, user-friendly ladders to mount upper berths, easier norms for unreserved tickets, 17,000 bio-toilets in trains, and cameras for safety of women travellers are among the other highlights of the budget.

Here are the top takeaways that passengers should cheer about:
E-catering is now a reality
This provides freedom to passengers to select their meals from an array of choices including local cuisine. Additionally, e-catering has been introduced in 108 trains on an experimental basis from January this year. Food can be ordered through the IRCTC website at the time of booking of tickets. IRCTC has already tied up with DOMINO'S on a trial basis which allows you to order a hot pizza that will be delivered to you at your seat.

SMS alerts on delays
Prabhu also proposed the introduction of an SMS alert service to inform passengers of updated arrival and departure times of trains at starting or destination stations. Similarly, SMS alerts will be sent 15-30 minutes in advance of arrival of trains at the destination.

Better and faster ticketing
You can now book your tickets four months in advance, as against a period of two months currently as the window for reserved ticket booking will be raised to 120 days versus the current 60 days. Even unreserved ticket purchase has been made simpler with smartphones and debit cards. Prabhu introduced 'Operation Five Minutes' to ensure that a passenger travelling unreserved can purchase a ticket within five minutes rather than fret over his unreserved seat.
“Provision of modified 'hotbuttons', coin vending machines and 'single destination teller' windows will drastically reduce the transaction time,” Prabhu announced. Also, Hand-held terminals will now be provided to Travelling Ticket Examiners (TTEs), which can be used for verification of passengers and downloading charts.

Helpline to complain 
An all-India 24X7 helpline number, 138, will become functional to attend to the problems of passengers on a real time basis. Passengers will be able to call up for complaints while on trains.
Another good initiative is the mobile application to redress Railway-related complaints. Railways intend to start this facility on a pilot project basis on Northern Railway from March 1, 2015.

Goodies for the elderly and differently-abled
While the budget is vague about ensuring women's safety, given that Prabhu only announced measures for increasing the number of surveillance cameras in coaches and women compartments, it does benefit the differently-abled and the elderly:
  • Differently-abled travellers can purchase concessional etickets after one-time registration.
  • All new coaches will be Braile-enabled to make travelling easier for the visually-challenged. 
  • Prabhu has increased the quota for lower berths for the elderly while middle bay of coaches will now be reserved for senior citizens and women.
  • Wheel chairs for the old, disabled and pregnant women can be booked online
  • More lifts and escalators at major stations and concierge service at select stations were also proposed.

Better stations with WiFi and online booking for retiring rooms
The good news is that Wi-Fi, which till now was only being provided at all A1 and A category stations, is now being expanded to include B category stations too. So far, 1,052 stations have been identified for upgradation of passenger amenities at Station under Adarsh station scheme. 200 more stations will be brought under this scheme.

Online booking of retiring rooms has already been initiated. The facility of self-operated lockers would also gradually be made available at stations. Concierge services through the IRCTC at major stations for the assistance of passengers for their pick up and drop will soon become a reality.

Railways has also proposed the creation of a new department for keeping stations and trains clean. Integrated cleaning will be taken up as a specialized activity, which will include engaging professional agencies and also training staff in the latest cleaning practices i.e. this job will be outsourced.

Research, Design and Standards Organisation (RDSO) has also been tasked with making available airplane like vacuum toilets. Moreover, online booking of disposable bedrolls at select stations is being extended to all passengers through the IRCTC portal on a payment basis. Prabhu also proposed  expanding water vending machines to most railway stations to ensure availability of clean drinking water at very low cost to people.

Source: The Hans India , 27th Feb 2015 

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