Key initiatives of the Indian Railways that will enhance our travel experience in the coming years

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With the Modi Government completing three years in office, one Ministry that has seen many radical changes and developments in the past couple of years is that of the Indian Railways. From primarily focusing on being a transportation provider, India’s lifeline has moved on to look at all aspects – from bringing in newer technologies and services, to enhancing the experience of travelling by train, and moving on to a more corporate mode of functioning. We take a look at some of the latest projects that the Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu has flagged off, and other plans that are on the anvil:

Tejas: India’s fastest train, which is capable of running at a speed of 200 kms/hour, will soon be plying the Mumbai –Goa route. The train will run five days a week, and three days a week during the monsoons. Touted as an airplane moving on tracks, Tejas Express is equipped with hi-tech facilities including WiFi, on-board entertainment, CCTV cameras, GPS based passenger information system, bio vacuum toilets and tea and coffee vending machines, among other amenities. The Railways plans to launch the train on Delhi-Chandigarh and Delhi-Lucknow routes as well.

WiFi facilities: As part of the Digital India initiative, the Indian Railways has launched free WiFi facilities at 28 stations on the Konkan Railways route. RailTel, a Miniratna enterprise of the Government, focusing on providing broadband and VPN services, in collaboration with Google, aims at providing free WiFi services at 400 stations by 2018. Currently, 100 stations across the country provide free WiFi facilities.

Uniforms for railway staff:  The makeover of the Railways will extend to its 13 lakh odd employees as well, with the staff soon set to sport stylish uniforms designed by Ritu Beri. This is directed towards instilling a means of pride in the profession. Beri gave a choice of four uniforms to the Indian railways, and in September last year, it conducted a nationwide Facebook poll asking passengers to pick uniforms that they felt would best suit the staff. The design titled ‘Vibrant Soul of India’ received the most number of votes.

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Redevelopment of stations: Taking the Public-Private Partnership route, the Indian Railways plans to redevelop 400 stations across the country to provide modern and world class passenger facilities, in the next few years. These stations will be at metros, major cities, pilgrimage spots and important tourist centres. Bidding for the development of 25 of the country’s most important stations will soon begin. The government has approached private players in India, and foreign players from France, Japan and Malaysia as well, for the redevelopment.

CCTV surveillance: Utilising the Nirbhaya Funds, the Indian Railways will be installing CCTV surveillance systems at more than 900 stations across the country. CCTV cameras will be installed in platforms and waiting areas, with control rooms set up so that the RPF personnel can monitor activities. There are around 8,000 stations across the country, with 344 stations already covered by CCTV cameras. Plans are also on to install cameras in important trains such as the Shatabdi, the Tejas Express and the Hamsafar Express.

Humsafar Express: This is the new, completely 3-tier AC train launched by the Indian Railways, which will run between major stations. The coaches are equipped with modern facilitates such as LED screens which display information about stations, train speed, etc, vending machines which provide tea and  coffee, smoke alarms and CCTV cameras, refrigeration boxes and heating chambers to heat food, charging ports for electronic devices, bio toilets in compartments, side curtains and khadi bedrolls.

IRCTC Rail Connect: The Android based mobile App replaces the older IRCTC Connect app to facilitate easy and faster booking of train tickets. It has features such as 24/7 service without timings, a much faster tatkal booking process (50 seconds), and is also synchronised with the ticketing website. The app also retains passenger details for recently booked tickets so that they don’t have to be entered again. The Railways is also planning to launch HindRail, which will work as an inquiry system and will provide information on arrivals, departures, cancellations, berth availability, platform numbers, etc. It will also allow users to book porters, taxis retiring rooms and hotels.