Recently in Rail Travel Category

Press Release:
 

Montréal, August 20, 2014-VIA Rail Canada (viarail.ca) is proud to announce that the Canadian leaving Vancouver yesterday will include, for the very first time, a newly renovated Park car featuring an accessible cabin designed for people with disabilities. This new cabin is a testament to VIA Rail's continued commitment to improving the accessibility of its services in order to ensure the safety and comfort of all its passengers.

The new accessible cabin for two was designed following extensive research of accessibility requirements within the transportation industry. In total, four Park cars used on the Canadian will be reconfigured to include a fully accessible cabin. "VIA Rail is committed to pursuing the improvement of accessibility on all its services. We are proud to now offer a cabin on board the Canadian between Toronto and Vancouver with a level of comfort designed specifically for our mobility reduced passengers," declared Yves Desjardins-Siciliano, President and Chief Executive Officer of VIA Rail Canada, "from Halifax to Vancouver, VIA Rail is able to accommodate persons with disabilities on board all its trains."

Passengers wishing to reserve this cabin may do so by telephone at the toll-free number 1 888 VIA RAIL (1 888 842-7245) or1 800 268-9803 (hearing impaired), through a travel agency or at the station.

Accessibility investments over the past few years

The newly reconfigured Park cars are amongst many other initiatives undertaken by VIA Rail to improve the accessibility of its services.

Over the past few years, VIA Rail has invested in building new accessible stations and renovating stations in order to improve the accessibility of its facilities.

The corporation has also improved accessibility to its rolling stock on other routes. Renaissance cars, used on the Ocean (Montreal-Halifax), were reconfigured to include an Economy class car wheelchair tie-down, an accessible bathroom and a fully accessible sleeper cabin on each departure. Furthermore, each Renaissance Economy class car was modified to offer seating for passengers travelling with a service animal, and fold-up armrests were installed on 2 two-person seats as well as 4 individual alley seats.

Two rail diesel cars (RDC) were recently modified for accessibility, one of which is currently in use on the Sudbury-White River route. VIA Rail also has an accessible Economy class car on each of its LRC train consists.

As well, VIA Rail's web site at viarail.ca was optimized in 2012, enabling people with disabilities to better access information on the site.

 
About VIA Rail Canada
 
As Canada's national rail passenger service, VIA Rail Canada's and its 2,500 employees are mandated to provide safe, efficient and economical travel, in both official languages of our country. VIA Rail operates intercity, regional and transcontinental trains linking 450 communities across its 12,500 km network. Recipient of the Railway Association of Canada's Safety Award in 2012 for the 11th time in 12 years, and of Baxter Travel Media's 2013 Agent's Choice Award (voted on by Canadian travel agents), VIA Rail safely transports nearly four million passengers annually. Since 2007, the Government of Canada has invested more than a billion dollars in VIA Rail. Follow the progress of our transformation at viarail.ca/transformingvia.
 
Follow us on our blog at viaevolution.ca, on Twitter @VIA_Rail and on Facebook.
 


On September 26th the U.S. Access Board issued new accessibility guidelines for outdoor areas developed by the federal government. The guidelines provide detailed specifications for accessible trails, picnic and camping areas, viewing areas, beach access routes and other components of outdoor developed areas when newly built or altered. They also provide exceptions for situations where terrain and other factors make compliance impracticable.


"The Board is eager to release these guidelines, which were long in the making, to explain how access to the great outdoors can be achieved," states Access Board Chair Karen L. Braitmayer, FAIA. "The greatest challenge in developing these guidelines was balancing what's needed for accessibility against what's possible in natural environments with limited development."


Requirements for trails, outdoor recreation access routes, and beach access routes address surface characteristics, width, and running and cross slopes. Exceptions are included for these and other provisions under certain conditions stipulated in the guidelines. Departures are allowed where compliance is not practicable because of terrain or prevailing construction practices. Exceptions are also recognized where compliance would conflict with mandates such as the Endangered Species Act and other laws or where it would fundamentally alter a site's function or purpose.


The guidelines originate from recommendations prepared by an advisory panel chartered by the Board, the Outdoor Developed Areas Regulatory Negotiation Committee. They were made available for public comment twice and finalized according to the feedback received. The rule applies only to national parks and other federal sites, but the Board plans to follow-up with rulemaking to address non-federal sites under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) at a later date.

"The Board is moving ahead to issue the guidelines first for federal sites out of expediency," explains Braitmayer. "In developing its guidelines, the Board must assess and aggregate their impacts. The Board was able to complete the necessary assessment on sites in the federal sector, but will require more time to analyze the impacts on the broader range of sites controlled by state and local governments covered by the ADA."


The rule applies to federal agencies that develop outdoor areas for recreational purposes, including the National Park Service, the Forest Service, the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Army Corps of Engineers, the Bureau of Land Management, and the Bureau of Reclamation. The new requirements will become mandatory on November 25, 2013 as part of the Architectural Barriers Act Accessibility Standards, which apply to facilities that are built, altered, or leased with federal funds.


The Board will conduct a public webinar on the new rule on October 17 from 2:30 to 4:00 (ET). To register for this free webinar, visit www.accessibilityonline.org.

For further information on the rule, visit the Board's website or contact Bill Botten at outdoor@access-board.gov(202) 272-0014 (v), or (202) 272-0073 (TTY).

 

The Access Board's Rail Vehicles Access Advisory Committee will hold its first meeting Oct. 15 and 16 in Washington, D.C. It will recommend updates to guidelines covering transportation vehicles for intercity, rapid, light, commuter and high speed rail. Meetings are open to the public with designated public comment periods held each day. To learn more, visit the Board'swebsite, email Paul Beattyor call him at 202.272.0012(v) or 202.272.0072 (TTY).

The Board has organized an advisory committee as part of its review and update of the ADA Accessibility Guidelines for Transportation Vehicles. The Rail Vehicles Access Advisory Committee will develop consensus recommendations for the Board's use in updating sections of the guidelines that cover vehicles of fixed guideway systems, including rapid, light, commuter, intercity, and high speed rail. These guidelines, which were originally published in 1991, serve as the basis for standards that apply to new or remanufactured vehicles required to be accessible under the ADA. The committee's work will not extend to portions of the guidelines that address buses and vans, which the Board is already in the process of updating.

Members of the Rail Vehicles Access Advisory Committee include:

  • Alstom Transportation
  • American Council of the Blind
  • Association of Programs for Rural Independent Living
  • Bombardier Transportation
  • California Department of Transportation, Division of Rail
  • Center for Inclusive Design and Environmental Access
  • Community Transportation Association of America
  • Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund
  • Federal Railroad Administration (ex officio member)
  • Hearing Access Program
  • International Centre for Accessible Transportation
  • Maryland Transit Administration
  • Metra & Northeast Illinois Regional Commuter Railroad Corporation
  • National Association of the Deaf
  • National Association of Railroad Passengers
  • National Council on Independent Living
  • National Disability Rights Network
  • National Railroad Passenger Corporation (Amtrak)
  • Parsons Brinckerhoff
  • RailPlan International
  • Ricon Corporation
  • South West Transit Association
  • Talgo, Inc.
  • United Spinal Association

The committee is structured to represent a balanced cross section of stakeholders and interested parties, including rail vehicle manufacturers, transit providers, disability groups, and others, as indicated in a published notice. Members were selected based on responses to a request for nominations the Board issued in February. The Board regrets not being able to accommodate all requests for committee membership. Committee membership is voluntary, and members are not reimbursed for their services.

The committee's work will be conducted in accordance with regulations governing Federal advisory committees. All committee meetings will be open to the public and will provide opportunities for any interested parties to provide information or offer comment. In addition, non-members may have the opportunity to participate in the work of any subcommittees formed by the committee. Details on the committee's first meeting will be released at a later date.

For further information, visit the vehicles homepage or contact Paul Beatty at rvaac@access-board.gov, (202) 272-0012 (voice), or (202) 272-0072 (TTY). Those interested in this rulemaking and the work of the committee can sign up to receive further updates. 

By Javed Abidi:

Like all other years, this year's Railway budget did not bring any cheer for India's 70-100 million people with disabilities, a large number of whom depend on the Railways for their basic mobility needs.

The only difference was that for the first time, the new Railway Minister talked about the substantive issue of accessibility at the stations and in the coaches. However, the discrimination and indignity faced by millions of persons with disabilities trying to use the Railways cannot be addressed by mere pious statements of good intent. The barriers are deep-rooted and systemic.

Let's try and understand what it means for the average person with disability to travel with the Railways.

To begin with, you can't buy the tickets online. The website is not accessible as it does not conform to web content accessibility guidelines despite a Government of India policy mandating so. And even if you are not print-impaired, you 'have to' physically go to the booking counter with your disability certificate in hand to avail yourself of the discount and get a prized seat in that one single accessible coach per train.

The booking counters are not accessible and that one 'accessible' counter for 'special' and 'differently-abled' people (pun intended) is not manned most of the time.

To top it, by the government's own admission, more than 50 per cent of the people with disabilities actually don't have a disability certificate.

Even if you are lucky to have a disability certificate, you are forced to purchase two tickets and to travel with an 'attendant,' never mind if you are totally independent and can actually travel alone.

HURDLES IN STATIONS

To get to the coach is another huge struggle. The way to the platforms is not at all accessible. India is still stuck with the concept of foot over-bridges with a thousand steep steps, and no ramps or lifts. You are therefore left with no choice but to use the same path as the luggage carts -- littered with potholes and garbage.

The concept of 'accessibility' for the Railways has remained limited to one accessible toilet for the entire station. God help you if you urgently need to use one but you are on Platform No. 2 and the 'disabled-friendly' toilet happens to be at the extreme end of the station, beyond Platform No. 7.

It is the same story with all other public facilities such as the drinking water taps, the public telephone booths, and so on.

The worst aspect of the Railways in the modern, 21st century India is the segregated coach for people with disabilities. This 'special' coach for 'differently-abled' people is attached now to almost every long-distance train either at the beginning, immediately after the engine, or towards the very end, right next to the guard. A person with disability doesn't have the same choice as other passengers because all the other coaches are not accessible.

We all know the story of Mahatma Gandhi having been thrown off a first-class carriage in South Africa because of the colour of his skin. I say Gandhiji was lucky. After all, he did manage to get into the coach. I, as a wheelchair user, can't even get inside.

What is needed is a holistic, time-bound action plan with a generous resource allocation. We are not asking for any miracles but there should be a serious start somewhere. I offer a simple three-point agenda to our new Railways Minister: Make the Railways website accessible. Make all A1 category stations fully accessible (stations are categorised by passenger traffic). Make at least one coach accessible in every class of every train. Fix a practical time frame, allocate a decent budget and for God's sake, then just do it!

Source:

http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/disability-rights-is-off-the-rails/article4469686.ece

(Javed Abidi is a very disgruntled disabled Indian citizen. He has been a wheelchair user for the last 33 years and yet, is not 'wheelchair-bound'. He keeps travelling around the world as the Global Chair of Disabled People's International (DPI). He is neither 'invalid' nor 'special.' And, he certainly is not 'differently' abled. He travels by train all the time, but only in America and in Europe. At home, in modern India, he cannot. He cannot even get inside them but he wants to. Hence, this piece, in the hope that things will change. He is Convener, Disabled Rights Group (DRG) and Chairperson, DPI.)

Get Out There and Explore the World!

An interview by Sandy Duybvetter of Travel Talk Radio with world traveler Mitch St. Pierre.



Prabal Kr Das reports in the Assam Times:

Assam might have made some strides in the field of transportation, but for a section of people it offers no opportunity to travel in a mode that is 
assam-map.jpg
safe, comfortable and dignified. The elderly and the physically challenged, who have specific physical needs, find the going tougher than ever.

A pioneering survey by the Disability Law Unit of Shishu Sarothi, a Guwahati-based centre for rehabilitation and training for multiple disability, has revealed how one of the most vulnerable sections of society has been deprived of rights, which others can take for granted.

There is absence of 'universal design' in almost all major modes of transport resulting to serious inconvenience to senior citizens and disabled people. A lack of basic facilities in buses, trains, and at transit points was revealed by the study.

While individual Indians with disabilities have  begun to leak stories of the appeal of Assam to their colleagues promoting Inclusive Tourism around the world progress is not satisfactory according to the report:

Absence of disabled-friendly infrastructure was noticed in major transport hubs like Guwahati Railway Station and Inter State Bus Terminus. In both the busy facilities, the disabled would confront severe hurdles in getting assistance.

In the case of Guwahati Railway Station, any disabled person or a person on wheelchair would have a harrowing experience to move from platform one to other platforms in the absence of a lift.

Although the busiest train station of Northeast India has seen major augmentation in recent times, no thought was given to the need for a lift or escalator. Today the aged, the infirm, and the disabled have to climb up and down a flight of stairs before they can move between platforms.

Or else, choose a more bizarre option. Arman Ali of Shishu Sarothi said, "On one occasion I had to sit on a wheelchair that was carried over the tracks till I reached my platform. It was dangerous, uncomfortable, and undignified."

Like elsewhere in the country, the existing design of passenger coaches has not helped the elderly and the disabled. Access to water and toilets continue to challenge such passengers. "I found rail travel very frustrating because using the toilet on a moving train was a nightmare," said Runu Medhi, a physically challenged woman working in an NGO. 

The recently operational ISBT also did not fare well in the Shishu Sarothi survey, as assistance for the elderly and disabled was hard to come by. A lack of signs and information kiosks was noticed in the facility from which long distance coaches operate.

In and around Guwahati, one of most common problems for the elderly and the disabled emerges from flawed bus and bus stop designs. Almost all the buses have steep steps that they find hard to climb, made more tricky by the rush of people who are boarding or disembarking.

Today, there is no way an unaccompanied elderly or disabled person can safely board or exit from a city bus. The risk is considerable and real, the survey observed.

Commenting on the situation, Arman Ali said that it was time the authorities woke up and started making interventions. The rights of the elderly and the disabled need to be respected, he noted.


Source:

http://www.assamtribune.com/scripts/detailsnew.asp?id=sep2710/at094

Via Rail Canada

450 mm by 450 mm (18 in by 18 in) Handicapped ...

Image via Wikipedia

CHENNAI, 25 Jan: Southern Railway may have ramps and wheelchairs for disabled passengers at major stations, but it is not disabled-friendly when it comes to allotting berths for such passengers.


There have been complaints that in many instances lower berths were not allotted to disabled passengers even if reservation was done much in advance. Senior citizens too faced the problem.

"I had booked a ticket for a relative who is disabled people. But, they did not allot a lower berth even after I presented a medical certificate showing that the passenger was disabled and that she would not be able to climb up to any other berth," said Manoj Joy, a resident of Velachery.

"The staff at the counter told me to exchange the berth with some other passenger as it was difficult to allot a lower berth because all berths were occupied. I have often seen young people being allotted lower berths, while senior citizens are given upper or middle berths. Some people agree to exchange their berth, but not everyone is so compassionate," said S Ramachandran, a senior citizen and a frequent traveller by train.

Manoj Joy had to cancel his ticket and book again twice before he got a lower berth on a different date. K Gopinath, member, TN Welfare Board for Disabled feels the number of berths allotted for disabled people is inadequate. "The number of people travelling by train has increased, but the allocation for disabled people has not gone up proportionately," he said.

Activists and associations working for the rights of disabled people had protested when the railway converted a general compartment meant for disabled people into a reserved compartment recently. Shanthi, a Chennai resident who was accompanying Adhishwer Ram, a child with cerebral palsy from the city to Coimbatore by West Coast Express on confirmed reserved tickets recently had a tough time due to overcrowding in the coach meant exclusively for disabled people, in October. The compartment meant to accommodate two disabled persons and their escorts had over 60 people.

Southern Railway chief public relations officer VJ Accamma said that lower berths are allotted to disabled people and also senior citizens depending on availability. "Every train has four berths for disabled people in the portion near the guard's cabin. Apart from this, we have not allocated any particular number of lower berths for senior citizens or disabled in other coaches. Passengers can always make a last minute request for lower berth. We have given some of the lower berths meant for emergency quota for senior citizens in the last minute," she said.

Source: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com

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CHENNAI, 25 Jan: Southern Railway may have ramps and wheelchairs for disabled passengers at major stations, but it is not disabled-friendly when it comes to allotting berths for such passengers.


There have been complaints that in many instances lower berths were not alloted to disabled passengers even if reservation was done much in advance. Senior citizens too faced the problem.

"I had booked a ticket for a relative who is disabled people. But, they did not allot a lower berth even after I presented a medical certificate showing that the passenger was disabled and that she would not be able to climb up to any other berth," said Manoj Joy, a resident of Velachery.

"The staff at the counter told me to exchange the berth with some other passenger as it was difficult to allot a lower berth because all berths were occupied. I have often seen young people being allotted lower berths, while senior citizens are given upper or middle berths. Some people agree to exchange their berth, but not everyone is so compassionate," said S Ramachandran, a senior citizen and a frequent traveller by train.

Manoj Joy had to cancel his ticket and book again twice before he got a lower berth on a different date. K Gopinath, member, TN Welfare Board for Disabled feels the number of berths allotted for disabled people is inadequate. "The number of people travelling by train has increased, but the allocation for disabled people has not gone up proportionately," he said.

Activists and associations working for the rights of disabled people had protested when the railway converted a general compartment meant for disabled people into a reserved compartment recently. Shanthi, a Chennai resident who was accompanying Adhishwer Ram, a child with cerebral palsy from the city to Coimbatore by West Coast Express on confirmed reserved tickets recently had a tough time due to overcrowding in the coach meant exclusively for disabled people, in October. The compartment meant to accommodate two disabled persons and their escorts had over 60 people.

Southern Railway chief public relations officer VJ Accamma said that lower berths are allotted to disabled people and also senior citizens depending on availability. "Every train has four berths for disabled people in the portion near the guard's cabin. Apart from this, we have not allocated any particular number of lower berths for senior citizens or disabled in other coaches. Passengers can always make a last minute request for lower berth. We have given some of the lower berths meant for emergency quota for senior citizens in the last minute," she said.

Source: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com

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This is news nobody wants to hear.

"Wait", you say, "This is good news. Accessibility is being achieved!"

But what were the costs to human lives so many decades after Universal Design was created? What about current US economic stimulus spending on infrastructure that still settles for "mere accessibbility" and minimal compliance as if Universal Design was a new esoteric concept? How many millions of people would have been positively affected if Caltrans had adopted good design to e emulated around the world years ago?

Caltrans said it would spend $25 million a year in each of the first five years making upgrades statewide. More would be spent each year after that.

Disability Rights Advocates, a Berkeley-based nonprofit law firm that represents people with disabilities, called the settlement unprecedented.

Ben Rockwell of Long Beach was one of two named plaintiffs who said they experienced dangerous conditions in their everyday travels. He regularly navigates Southern California's busy Pacific Coast Highway.

"People like myself who are wheelchair users look forward to the day when we do not have to travel in the street with vehicular traffic because sidewalks are inaccessible," he said in a statement.

The AARP also joined the class-action suit "because with 77 million aging baby boomers in this country, we need to make sure our communities are places where everyone can live and get around," Julie Nepveu, an attorney for the litigation branch of the AARP Foundation, said in a statement.

Source:

http://www.appeal-democrat.com/news/sidewalks-89994-spend-california.html


Trains and Wheelchairs

From ikbenamy-projects.blogspot.com/ comes a literal insider's view of riding a high speed train in a wheelchair.
Hi-speed rail.JPG

See:

http://ikbenamy-projects.blogspot.com/2007/09/high-speed-rail-for-wheelchair.html


Thrown From the Holiday Train by Arwen Bird

A wonderful testimony to the power of compassion-infused imagination on the part of a single member of the Disability Community - Oregonian Arwen Bird - as she reflects on the core value of our community -- interdependence.



Also available on Tour watch: http://tournet.ning.com/video/thrown-from-the-holiday-train

Here is a description of the project by author Arwen Bird:

Hello Friends,

Last Winter holiday I boarded an excursion train with my family and was forced off because the organizers wouldn't take "wheelchairs." Instead of pursuing legal or traditional advocacy strategies to redress the harms of that day--which are often so adversarial that the people responsible for harm turn off their sense of compassion for the people they have hurt--I wanted to spend energy in ways that are intended to be healing for me, and for everyone who witnesses this story. After much thought I chose to write and produce a digital story. The story, Thrown From the Holiday Train, is FINALLY ready to be shared with all of you!

http://blip.tv/file/2596171/

I invite you to:
        1. Watch this short story (it's about 5 minutes long)
        2. Share it far and wide with everyone you know
        3. Let me know if you feel more connected to your Will to help people with disabilities be with the ones they love

Through sharing my story, I hope to help people watching connect with their WILL to help people with disabilities be with their families. I believe that if we stay connected to this sense of will, that the logistics of building ramps, lifts, etc. flow easily from this deeper desire to help people be with the ones they love. It's amazing what can happen when our will and sense of compassion are engaged.

For my next project, I am considering focusing on how the incident affected my nephew and our relationship.  After witnessing the event, my nephew (who was three at the time) began to experiment with discriminating and separating me from my family because of my use of a wheelchair, reflecting what the adults around him were modeling. Although being 'thrown' from the train was emotionally painful for me, it was seeing the ways it had affected him that inspired me to act. After you watch this one, please let me know if the next chapter a story you want to hear and watch!

Thanks for reading and sharing.

Love, Arwen

A peculiar form of ghetto policy has been promulgated on "as many as 133 trains under Southern Railway's jurisdiction" reports India Times from Chennai.

The TN Association for the Welfare of the Physically Handicapped (TNAWPH) and the TN Disabled people Graduates and Physically Handicapped Welfare Association have protested against the move and have demanded that the railways scrap the new system and allow handicapped persons with general tickets to travel in the coaches in long-distance trains.

The policy implemented on August 1  reverses previous practice.

"Railway Protection Force (RPF) personnel and guards have thrown out several physically disabled persons from the coach stating that they were not holding reserved tickets," said K Gopinath, state deputy general secretary, TNAWPH.

"I was thrown out of the Rockfort Express in Tiruchy because I had only unreserved tickets. The Railway Protection Force (RPF) not only did not allow me to travel but also detained me till the train left the station because I created a ruckus and pulled the chain," said R Thangam, state president, TN Disabled people Graduates and Physically Handicapped Welfare Association.

"If the physically challenged reservation is not utilised or partially utilised, the vacant berths can be used by physically handicapped persons travelling unreserved. If the berths are vacant, physically disabled persons can board the coach with unreserved tickets enroute," [Southern Railway's chief public relations officer A J] Accamma said.

India: A Revolution on Rails?

By Imtiaz Muqbil

Indian Railways' multi-million dollar spruce-up is set to continue in the year ahead with a new caveat, balancing "social viability" and "economic viability". The budget proposal for 2009-10 tabled to parliament by Railways Minister Ms Mamata Banerjee on 03 July 2009 will strive to go down the aviation track in upgrading one of the world's largest railway networks - boost passenger services, develop railways terminals/stations and safety, improve connectivity, expand the reservations systems, create better facilities for the handicapped, all without a single increase in fares or freight rates. It will go further than airlines in some respects with a strong focus on freight movements, especially perishable products like fruits and vegetables, thus creating opportunities for developing new markets for India's low-earning farmers.

As these projects are implemented over the Railways' roughly 17,800 services a day, the benefits to travel & tourism will be phenomenal. Domestic tourism will be a primary beneficiary, but so will international tourism, especially for backpackers, most of whom prefer to travel around India by train. It will open up access to dozens of destinations around India, creating new tour packaging opportunities, boosting the average length of stay and distribution of earnings. Neighbouring countries will also benefit; one key part of the budgetary expenditure is for development of links with neighbouring Bangladesh. Indeed, with the signing of the Trans Asian Railway network agreement, numerous other countries will be encouraged to undertake similar upgrades in their railway facilities.

After getting the lion's share of attention in recent years, India's aviation sector has become a victim of its over-zealous growth. The railway network, which transports the vast majority of middle- and lower-income strata Indians, is making slow but steady progress, with every possibility that it will turn the tables on the airlines in providing economically viable, environmentally friendly, inclusive and safe travel around India.

The Railways budget is the third most awaited financial event in India, after the Union Budget and Economic Survey. Created in an election year, the new budget is designed to be both "populist and popular". It strives to provide "inclusive" economic growth and promote greater intra-India social and cultural linkages. Indeed, this year's budget seeks to continue what is considered one of the most significant "turnaround" stories in commercial history but with a difference. Says the minister (who is now back in the Railways portfolio after serving an earlier term under a previous government in 2000), "The Railways is an organization with twin responsibilities - commercial and social. It will be our endeavour to render all commercial services with a human face" and "make Indian Railways a strong, responsive and vibrant organization, with higher levels of capability and effectiveness."

Like the main Union budget, the Railways budget is designed to help the Indian government eradicate poverty, and generate growth by upgrading the living standards of common people. Said the minister, "I am deeply conscious of the need to bring about a perceptible improvement in the travel experience of our passengers. .... and bring highest satisfaction to the travelling public. I am also aware that the recession in the economy has caused much economic burden among the poorer section of our society. Therefore, I do not propose any increase in the passenger fares of any class or category of trains. Similarly, I do not intend to increase freight tariffs." In addition to pledging improved passenger amenities, cleanliness, quality of railway catering, safety and security and punctuality, she promised a 'White Paper' would be created to assess the Railways' organizational, operational and financial status and develop a Vision 2020 along with short- and long-term strategies and plan of action to realise it.

From a broader perspective, the new policy ditches the notion that privatisation of state assets is always the best way forward. In her statement to Parliament, the minister queried "whether railway projects (should) be measured only on the scale of "economic viability" or do we also need to look at the "social viability" of these projects?"

She added, "Are the fruits of development to be restricted only to a privileged few and not to the teeming populations in remote and backward areas of our country? These projects may be economically unviable but are an economic necessity for the people of those regions who have remained victims of backwardness and poverty. They need these projects even more. I do believe and I am firmly committed to the visible upliftment (sic) of the downtrodden and under privileged which is imperative for holistic socio-economic development of the country. These projects that are instrumental in upgradation (sic) of the deprived and under privileged, may not meet the so called economic viability criterion but create real economic assets which will be far more beneficial for future development."

She said, "Just as everybody has a right to vote in democracy, in the same manner, every ordinary person should have the right to development. Several lakhs of people are awaiting development. I think the time has come when our economists and social philosophers will have to consider, that the upliftment (sic) of the poor and down trodden, is the primary task of any welfare government and society and the old mindset of economic viability should be substituted by social viability. Rather than following the conventional strategy of firing staff as a means of cutting costs, it will seek to improve the benefits and working conditions for the 140,000 staff.

She added, "The Railways must set an example to promote 'inclusiveness' in their functioning keeping the needs of all sections of our fellow countrymen in our thoughts, decisions and deeds. I have therefore decided to set up an expert committee to advise me on innovative financing and implementation of the so called "economically unviable" but socially desired projects. We will identify those parts that are detached from all infrastructure development and facilities and within a short time I will prepare a blueprint of how many such schemes can be implemented in the coming five years."

The key issue, she said, was the "need to strike a right balance. Everyone knows that India is changing and changing rapidly. Indeed Railways is making its own important contribution to this change. Today the people of India are eager for faster and inclusive economic growth. They want better connectivity, more employment opportunities. People of every region in every state want to see progress in agriculture, industry, trade and business, so that they and their children can live a better life. Indian Railways is a unique umbrella for creation of infrastructure for development and it is our Mission and Vision to expand the network to reach development to every corner of the country."

"Every person wants to live in dignity. The journey of life also begins with dignity. Rail journey is also like the journey of life. I want that every person should travel on our Railways with dignity."

Highlights of the budget

<> Launch of a new train service called "Duronto" with non-stop, point-to-point services between major metropolitan centres nationwide. For the first time, non-stop trains will link Kolkata-Mumbai, and the capital of New Delhi with Chennai, JammuTawi (Northern India), Lucknow, Pune, Kolkata, Allahabad, Sealdah, Bhubaneshwar and Ernakulam. Another non-stop service will run Kolkata-Amritsar. These will be operated on bi-weekly or tri-weekly basis. Another 57 "superfast" new train services will be created, also linking cities such as Visakhapatnam-Mumbai, Kolkata-Bangalore and Mumbai-Varanasi. Another 27 services will be extended beyond existing destinations, and a further 13 will be upgraded to nearly daily services.

<> The 50 railway stations of nearly all these key cities will be upgraded to "world class standards with international level facilities" through innovative financing and in Public Private Partnership mode. Some of these include are CST Mumbai, Pune, Nagpur, Howrah, Sealdah, Bhubaneswar, New Delhi, Lucknow, Varanasi, Amritsar, Kanpur, Guwahati, Jaipur, Chennai Central, Tiruvananthapuram Central, Secunderabad, Tirupati, Bangalore City, Baiyapanahali (Bangalore), Ahmedabad, Bhopal, Habibganj, Gaya Jn., Agra Cantt., Mathura Jn., Chandigarh, Kolkata, New Jalpaiguri, Majerhat, Mangalore, Porbandar, Anand Vihar, Bijwasan, Ajmer Jn. and Puri.

<> This year, another 375 stations will be provided with basic facilities such as drinking water, adequate toilets, catering services, waiting rooms and dormitories especially for lady passengers, and better signage.

<> All Railway zones have been instructed to give priority to provision of good quality food, drinking water and toilet facilities and ensure cleanliness on trains and stations. National and regional cuisines will be introduced. A comprehensive policy including strict monitoring mechanisms is to be developed for achieving these objectives.

<> Expand On Board House Keeping Scheme (OBHS) to cover 200 additional pairs of trains and also take up improved linen management through modern automated laundries. A pilot project will be started in Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata, Chennai and Thiruvananthapuram and later extended to other cities.

<> Help Physically Challenged Persons and aged persons by providing standard ramps, earmarked parking lots, specially designed coaches in each mail and express train, lifts and escalators.

<> Introduce Train Information System with automatic announcements in Kolkata, Chennai and Delhi suburban sections as is already in the process of being installed in Mumbai.

<> Explore the possibility to depute at least one doctor in long distance trains. Arrangements will be made to provide Ambulance services for passengers at Chennai, Bangalore, Delhi, Hyderabad, Mumbai, Kolkata and Bhubaneswar to start with.

<> Provide on-board infotainment services on Rajdhanis, Shatabdis and important long distance inter-city trains.

<> The absence of toilet facilities on some trains when the travel time is less than 4 hours, poses difficulties for women, children and aged persons. Plans are to provide toilet facilities on all journeys of more than 2 hours. Conduct field trials for introducing environment friendly toilets.

<> The Reservation System now covers 800 locations with 6,872 terminals. This will be expanded to cover 200 new towns and cities and a further 800 new locations in cities and towns already having PRS facilities. Each member of both houses of Parliament has been asked to identify one PRS location of their choice for inclusion in the list.

<> The number of Unreserved Ticketing System (UTS) terminals is being expanded from 5,000 to 8,000. Automatic Vending Machines will be installed at 200 large and medium sized stations. E-ticketing will also be introduced. Cancellation of confirmed e-tickets is to be simplified. Efforts are on to provide SMS update on waitlisted tickets.

<> Under an MoU with Department of Post, passengers can now buy computerized tickets from nearly 5,000 post offices in cities and towns. Mobile ticketing vans will be introduced for issuing reserved and unreserved tickets in both urban and rural areas. Poor people who are unable to go to the stations can now purchase tickets in market places, "mohallas" and other busy places. This year, 50 such mobile vans will be introduced nationwide.

<> High capacity air conditioned double-decker coaches will be introduced for intercity travel.

<> The Additional General Managers on each zonal Railway will be responsible for periodic supervision and carrying out surprise inspections and attending to public grievances. Each Division will have a dedicated officer for field level supervision.

<> "Yuva Trains" will be introduced between major cities to help youth and low income groups travel at low rates. The new low-priced fast train service will connect rural hinterlands to major metros/cities. The train will provide air conditioned seated accommodation. A weekly service will be introduced as a pilot service within three months between Mumbai-Delhi and Delhi-Kolkata. If successful it will be extended to other areas of the country.

<> Concessions "Izzat": A new scheme called 'Izzat' (dignity, or respect) will involve a uniformally priced monthly season ticket of Rs. 25 would be available free of all surcharges for travel up to 100 kms for members of the unorganized sector with monthly income not exceeding Rs. 1500/-.

<> Concessions to journalists: Instead of giving coupons, it is now proposed to issue photo identification cum credit card based on the certification by the Press Information Bureau and other State and local authorities. In addition, concession of 30% will be increased to 50%. Permission to travel with spouse at 50% concession will be given for once a year.

<> Student concessions. The presently free monthly season tickets for second class travel between school and home for girl students up to graduation and for boy students up to 12th standard will be extended to students attending Madrasa, High Madrasa and senior Madrasa. Concessional monthly season tickets will also now be available for students attending school up to Class XII, Madrasa, High Madrasa and senior Madrasa for travel in Metro rail, Kolkata. Students attending recognized vocational institutions will also enjoy this 60% concession on the metro fare.

<> Only Ladies Special: As the number of working women in increases, they face considerable difficulties in travelling for work. 'Ladies Only' train services will be introduced in Delhi, Chennai and Kolkata suburban similar to that on Mumbai suburban.

<> Freight Business: Improve the proportion of freight traffic moving on Railways. Besides improving the loading of coal, iron ore, cement, fertilizers and food grains, Railways are seeking to increase their share in new traffic streams like automobiles, fly ash etc. Permission to access private sidings will be given to containers which will help in attracting piecemeal traffic presently not being carried by Railways. A premium service for container movement with assured transit time is being considered for time sensitive cargo.

<> Private ownership of special purpose rolling stock for commodities and private operation of freight terminals will be encouraged. A new policy would be unveiled to allow construction and operation of private freight terminals and multi-modal logistic parks. Partnerships will be sought with state governments and major logistics players to set up logistics parks co-habited by multiple players through participative funding.

<> Mega logistics hubs are being planned alongside the proposed Eastern and Western Dedicated Freight Corridors.

<> Multi-functional Complexes (Macs) will be built in station premises for providing rail users facilities like shopping, food stalls and restaurants, book stalls, PCO/STD/ISD/Fax booths, medicine & variety stores, budget hotels, underground parking etc. These are planned at 50 railway stations serving places of pilgrimage, industry and tourist interest this year.

<> Kinas-Vision (Farmer-Vision) project: India suffers an unacceptable loss of about Rs. 35-40,000 crore (Editor's note: one crore is 10 million) every year in wastage of fruits and vegetables. The Railways proposes to contribute to India's second green revolution by introducing special trains to carry perishable products like fruits and vegetables, fish, etc, from identified production clusters to consumer centres. A professional agency will be hired to identify locations and design proper services.

<> Promote small industries and facilitate movement of village handicraft, cottage industry and textile products from production clusters like Tirupur, Dhanekhali, Shantipur etc to consumption centres.

<> Super Fast Parcel Express Trains: Launch of a premium parcel service named "Faster Parcel Services" on a pilot basis on 3 routes between: Tughalakabad (Delhi) and Royapuram (Chennai) Tughalakabad (Delhi) and Vapi (near Mumbai); Tughalakabad (Delhi) and Howrah This is envisaged as a time-tabled service from dedicated terminals with guaranteed transit time and web-based bookings.

<> Dedicated Freight Corridors on the Western and Eastern routes, a landmark project of great importance for creating infrastructure and generating employment. The Western corridor passes through Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Haryana, Rajasthan, Gujarat and Maharashtra. The Eastern Corridor will run from Ludhiana to Kolkata via Dankuni, covering the states of Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal. Prefeasibility studies for the other trunk routes viz; North-South, East-West, East-South and Southern (Chennai-Goa) corridors have been conducted and Ministry of Railways will take steps for further action in this regard.

<> A Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor is being developed in the area of the Western Dedicated Freight corridor comprising industrial hubs, rail port connectivity, logistic parks and mega power plants which will be executed in public private partnership mode.

<> An Eastern Industrial Corridor developing alongside the Eastern Dedicated Freight Corridor, similar to the Delhi Mumbai Industrial corridor. The Railways land banks will be used to avoid cost increases and help in early start of industrial projects.

<> Improvements in Rail based suburban services i.e. Metro Railway, Circular Railway and EMU services, considered to be the "life-line" of megapolises like Mumbai, Kolkata, and Chennai. Even after augmenting the capacity of the existing trains by way of additional coaches and introduction of additional services, the rail based suburban system will not be able to meet the demand of the ever increasing population and do not provide rail based transport from origin to destination to the commuters.

<> Kashmir: A new rail line from Anantnag to Baramulla in Kashmir Valley has already been completed. Further, Quazigund-Anantnag line will be completed by August 09 and will be inaugurated soon.

<> The Northeast region: Another very sensitive region, where rail projects are in progress for providing connectivity to state capitals of Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur and Mizoram. Ten rail projects in this region have been declared as National projects. A proposal for creation of Northeast Region Rail Development Fund has been initiated to ensure timely completion of the National Projects.

<> Improvement of staff quarters & colonies. During 2009-10, 6,560 new staff quarters are proposed to be constructed. Indoor stadiums will be developed in major railway divisions and zones including Bongaon at the Indo-Bangladesh border.

<> Increase the contribution to Staff Benefit Fund to Rs 350/- per employee by one year. Of this amount, Rs 100 per employee will be exclusively for activities relating to women empowerment and training for developing vocational and occupational skills of physically and mentally challenged wards of railway employees especially girl-childs and higher education for girls. It has been proposed to set up Scholarships for higher education of girl children of group D staff for promoting their economic independence.

<> Open seven Nursing Colleges on Railway land at Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai (Kalyan), Chennai, Secunderabad, Lucknow and Jabalpur on Public Private Partnership model so as to facilitate the wards of the Railway employees in finding a good vocational avenue.

<> Medical colleges are planned to be established attached to existing railway hospitals through PPP, to give higher education facilities to new generation of railway children.

<> Special Recruitment Drive will be launched to wipe out backlog in filling up the vacancies of Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribes. It is proposed to develop a scheme to give better representation to minorities, women and economically back ward classes of the society in railway recruitments. A Special Recruitment Drive will be launched for filling up of vacancies against Physically Handicapped Quota.

<> Strengthen apprentices training facilities to impart state of the art training to young artisans and supervisors.

<> Safety: Safety is first priority. This includes timely track renewal, modernization of signals, use of various safety equipment like digital ultrasonic flaw detecting machines and wheel impact load detectors.

<> Road Over Bridges and Road Under Bridges are extremely important from safety point of view. The present mechanism of cost sharing between the Railways and the state governments needs to be reviewed. A new approach is being sought, with assured funding, to facilitate turnkey execution of these projects.

<> Anti Collision Device (ACD) has been made operational on 1736 RKm of North Frontier Railway. Further work for extending this system on 1700 RKm on three railways Southern, South Central and South Western Railways is planned to be completed in two years.

<> Security and Integrated Security Scheme has been drawn up for 140 vulnerable and sensitive railway stations. Women RPF squads are being deployed for security of women passengers, particularly in sections where a large number of women travel alone regularly.

<> During 2008-09, 363 km of doublings were constructed whereas for 2009-10, target for doubling of 700 km has been fixed. The target for electrification during XI Plan is 3500 Route Kilometers with an outlay of Rs.3500 crores. In the first two years of XI Plan, 1299 RKMs has been electrified.

<> Railway Printing Presses: Long been neglected and considered a non-productive asset. A few major presses like Mumbai (Byculla), Delhi (Shakurbasti), Kolkata (Howrah) and Chennai are proposed for upgrading, making it cost effective for the railways and also creating surplus capacity for ancillary development and commercial purposes.

<> All the initiatives indicated in the Budget and the projects taken in hand are to be strictly monitored for implementation in line with fixed target dates. A project monitoring committee is to be set up to monitor the time-lines. This will achieve substantial savings in cost associated with faulty planning and time over-run

The full text of the Railways Minister's speech, including numerous technical and financial details on funding can be found here.

Source:

Travel Impact Newswire

Imtiaz Muqbil, Executive Editor, 24 Soi Chidlom, Bangkok, Thailand 10330. T: (66-2) 2551480, 2537590. Fax: (66-2) 2544316. Email: imtiaz@travel-impact-newswire.com

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