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Why IR passenger traffic heading south?

By on November 9, 2017

Indian Railway non-suburban passenger business is in a bad shape and unless immediate measures are taken to arrest it, it will be difficult to retain its status in the transport business. Lateral thinking, different from the way in which IR policymakers had been thinking in the past, is necessary. A brainstorming with all stakeholders with an open mind is necessary to find ways to have a sustained growth commensurate with the number of passenger coaches and new trains added every year. Most important of the old belief is that all trains are running full. But this is not correct, if a right statistics data is traced to find the hidden fact, the position will be different.  A simple indication that even with the increased number of coaches and trains, the number of the non-suburban passenger from 2010-11 onward is coming down and is as follows:

Year No. of the non-suburban passenger in million Percentage Change
2010-11 3590
2011-12 3847 +7.1%
2012-13 3944 +2.5%
2013-14 3845 -2.6%
2014-15 3730 -3%
2015-16 3692 -1.1%
2016-17 3649 -1.2%

Source: Year Book and Monthly Evaluation Report published by Ministry of Railway

There is a 5% percent drop during 2016-17 as compared to 2013-14 with the continuous declining trend. During the same period, there is a 10% increase in passenger coaches in service. Even with this, it is difficult to get a confirmed ticket just a week before the departure of the train.

Indian Railway commands a status of ‘National Transporter’ and does the declining trend of IR an indication of falling demand for travel. It is difficult to evaluate or believe this. However, certainly, there is a need to understand the changing mindset and how it is shifting with the changing environment.

Action taken by Indian Railways

  1. Railway Convention Committee in its report RCC-131 (2014) on Share of Railway Traffic vis-a-vis Road and Air Transport – An evaluation  published the following:
    1. Total passenger traffic consists of 54.2% sub-urban, 28.7% Ordinary Second class and balance reserved class of Sleeper, 3A, 2A, and 1A.
    2. The passenger fare increased from 2004 to 2014 at CAGR of 2.87% only.
    3. Due to passenger fare increase on 25.6.2014, the fare collection increased in 2014-15 by 15.4%.
    4. Railway Board attributed the reasons to various factors:
      1. capacity constraints on major trunk routes of IR;
      2. improvement in road infrastructure offering better and faster connectivity leading to an increase in the number of private and commercial vehicles;
      3. the gradual shift of passenger traffic to the growth of metro rail projects in 5 cities; and
      4. cancellation of trains due to agitations, natural calamities, etc. during this period
    5. Railway Board reported the following measures to improve things:
      1. augmentation of onboard capacity by attachment of additional coaches, running of special trains during festivals and holidays, running of Suvidha trains, etc. for the convenience of passengers.
      2. organizing intensive ticket checking drives, including fortress checks, etc. to discourage ticketless travel.
      3. augmentation of ticket selling capacity through operation of Automatic Ticket Vending Machines (ATVM), mobile ticketing, utilizing the services of ticketing agents like Jan Sadharan Ticket Booking Sewaks (JTBS), Station Ticket Booking Agents (STBA), Yatri Ticket Suvidha Kendra (YTSK), etc.
    6. Railway Board replied to the committee the impact of these measures:
      1. the positive growth of 0.45% in the number of passengers booked has been registered from April 2016 to May 2016 as compared to the corresponding period of last year.
  2. From the IR website and the press reports, the action taken by IR during the new regime beginning 2014 is  summarized as follows:
    1. To improve the aesthetic and hygienic condition of the coaches, particularly the upper class
    2. easing ticketing with the help of online/mobile/ATVM etc.
    3. increasing maximum permissible speed and reducing running time

But the reality is that the passenger traffic is continually falling

Where does the problem lie?

  1. Railway Convention Committee very rightly suggested that

” the vast improvement in road infrastructure offering better and faster connectivity and the comfort and convenience provided to passengers by Metro Railways should act as a stimulus for Indian Railways to leverage their performances in passenger traffic/services through optimal utilization of the existing infrastructure as well as by requisite capacity augmentation” but no action by IR

2. BJP manifesto on transportation

“BJP realizes the importance of travel for the vibrancy of the economy and social unity. BJP will:  Create a public transport system, which can reduce the dependence on personal vehicles for transport, thereby, reducing cost, time to travel as well as ecological cost.  Launch an Integrated Public transport project which will include roadways, railways, and waterways.  Develop waterways for passenger and cargo transport.  Develop National logistics network for faster movement of goods” but no action for

3. The IR strong belief that trains are running full and there is a strong demand for additional coaches and new trains.

From the table above, it is very clear that there is no serious analysis of the declining trend, and is continuing…

What should be done?

  1. Indian Railway shall focus on the top line (i.e. the number of passenger traveled) first to retain the status of “National Transporter”. The bottom line will certainly follow the top line if we have to learn something from the business tycoon.
  2. To evaluate the reserved seat kilometer utilization of each train and strategy to offload capacity for short distance passengers. Due to the telescopic nature of fare structure, a short distance passenger pays more than the long-distance passenger and therefore a hidden treasure (what is hidden?). Very short distance passenger is shifting to the road and long distance to air, and then it is the intermediate distance which IR shall focus now through its long distance express trains.
  3. Special/festive seasonal trains are introduced every year, but if any inspection of such train is done, running almost empty. These trains shall be marketed on lines similar to the effort made in 2014 by introducing premiums trains but failed as it has premium fare and not the premium facility. The booking of such trains shall begin earlier than the timetabled trains. The advance booking of the scheduled trains shall be reduced to one month only, and that of the special train to three months.
  4. To work for last mile connectivity of the passenger by different modes of transport. Last mile connectivity through its cheap mode of transport such as passenger, local, metro, bus, etc. plays an important role for the passenger as he pays heavily in metropolitan cities.
  5. Indian Railways shall exit from a catering business and outsource it wherein a passenger shall be able to book the requirement through mobile and IR shall only facilitate. Converting a pantry car into an earning coach is highly desirable for Indian Railways.
  6. Check-in through mobile shall be introduced and a system developed to confirm the allotment to a waitlisted passenger no only from the originating station but also from intermediate station. This will subsequently help the passenger in mobile booking for short distance and intermediate journeys, which are very much in demand.
  7. The present action of renovating trains with higher standards of aesthetic and hygiene is always a requirement of the passenger and will not help in attracting more passenger but if not there, will make him run away.

With the commissioning of eastern and western dedicated freight corridors, sectional  capacity will be released to run additional passenger trains. If this declining trend continues, and the capacity so released not put to effective use, IR will have a difficult time due to the additional financial burden of meeting the minimum access charges that will be paid to DFCCIL irrespective of utilisation. 

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