sign of tougher reform measures to come further down the line, Bansal proposed partially deregulating ticket prices, linking both passenger and freight rates to the cost of diesel. Earlier this year, India began a gradual deregulation of diesel, which is currently heavily subsidised.
However, Bansal only applied the fuel-linked increase to freight fares. He did not specify when passenger fares would be hit, or when the floating mechanism will be introduced.
"It does seem that he has ... tried to toe the line between the requirement of getting points before the election and looking at a better financial position for the railways," said Jyotinder Kaur, an economist at HDFC Bank.
Bansal is the first railway minister to come from the country's ruling party in 17 years. The post is often doled out to junior partners of the ruling coalition.
Critics say successive rail ministers have used the post for political ends, laying tracks and wagon factories in their home states to win votes. This comes at the cost of upgrading a network that was mostly built before independence from Britain in 1947 and receives scant private sector investment.
The main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) slammed the railway budget for promising a wheel factory in Rae Bareli, the constituency of Sonia Gandhi, the chief of the ruling Congress party who is seen as the country's most powerful politician.
A report submitted to the government last year estimated that a properly run railway network could add 1.5-2.0 percent to the country's economic growth and raised concerns about a lack of safety due to chronic under-investment.
In a reminder of the scale of the challenge Bansal faces to improve safety, riots broke out in central India on the same day as the budget speech after two children were run over by a goods train, local media reported.