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India’s interim rail budget focuses on passengers and growth

Presenting the Interim Rail Budget for 2014 in Parliament on Wednesday, Union Railway Minister Mallikarjun Kharge tried to present a rosier outlook -- one focused on passengers and growth.

NEW DELHI: The Indian government has handed down its interim rail budget for this year -- the final budget before the country goes to the polls.

As expected, the new announcements were squarely aimed at keeping passengers happy.

It has been a tough time of late for Indian Railways.

During the Congress party's tenure, a high turnover of ministers tasked with managing the lagging portfolio have struggled to account for huge financial losses and accusations of corruption.

Presenting the Interim Rail Budget for 2014 in Parliament on Wednesday, Union Railway Minister Mallikarjun Kharge tried to present a rosier outlook -- one focused on passengers and growth.

Significantly, there will be no increase in fares despite the Railways incurring an annual loss to the tune of US$4.2 billion.

Mr Kharge announced 10 new passenger, 17 premium and 38 express trains, including premium services between key religious and tourist destinations.

He also made a strong pitch for boosting investment in big infrastructure projects like high-speed train corridors and dedicated freight corridors on eastern and western routes to reduce transit times.

Mr Kharge said: "The capacity released by freight trains could then be used for running more passenger trains at higher speed in a needs-based manner. This initiative would also offer significant reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in transport sectors of India."

Despite these infrastructure projections, stocks fell on the budget's release with investors disappointed by a lack of capital spending announcements.

Train accidents are common place in the country, and special mention was made of proposed safety initiatives, including a Train Collision Avoidance System to check growing derailment incidents.

There is not much time for the government to turn around its overspending but under-delivering rail service. But in the short term, scrutiny will still be high from voters looking to see if the party can make good on its many commitments.

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