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Where has 150 millions Indian Railway passenger gone?

By on October 1, 2015

There is disturbing news that IR has recorded a drop of 4.2% passenger traffic during April-August during 2014-15 as compared to last year. Indian Railway carried 343 Crs passenger this year as compared to 358 Cr last year during the first five months showing a drop of 15 Crs passenger. Where have 15 Crs. Indian Railway passengers gone? The possible reasons can be Mode of the shift from rail to the road – a warning for Indian Railwaysarticle-2191632-14A3DB81000005DC-866_468x297

  1. Mode of the shift from Rail to the road – a warning signal for Railways
  2. Drop in economic activity – will certainly revive being cyclic
  3. Need for travel reduced – Information technology replaced the need
  4. Airfare becoming competitive with II AC travel: Nothing to worry
  5. Unwelcome gesture towards a passenger – a reason for changing the attitude
  6. The uncertainty of confirmed reservation – a reason for the improvement in IT
  7. Long journey time – unavoidable on date
  8. Heavy rush during peak hours – avoidable to some extent by operating longer trains
  9. Drop in passenger during non-peak hours as roads are also free – marketing effort may help
  10. Short distance passenger running away – a warning signal for Indian Railways

If news clipping to be believed, the probable reason quoted by an official of Ministry of Railways are

  1. Drop in short distance passenger traveling in unreserved coach
  2. Ticket-less travel

There is nothing new in the reasoning given and generally, the same reasons are repeated every time a scenario of the drop in passenger arises. The passenger traffic figures are available on Indian Railway website up to 13-14, and it is worth observing that the passenger traffic grew by 7.5% during 2011-12 but declined thereafter to 2.4% and (-) 0.002% in the subsequent year. The year 2014-15 figures are important to observe. Why this decline is not acknowledged while presenting Indian Railway budget speech during June 2014?

From the above, it is clear that decline trend has already surfaced in 12-13 but IR continued in denial mood. What should be done? The probable reasons are

Mode of the shift from Rail to Road

The road is a passenger-friendly mode of transport. The passenger is attracted to rail for comfort, lower fare, and safety. But he runs away from the railway station due to long queue for ticketing, lack of passenger information, late running, poor frequency and waiting at the railway station etc. But this avoidable.

Drop in economic activity

This is a cyclic event and will again revive. But when revived, the passenger shall continue to look towards rail transport as the best mode of transport.

Need for travel reduced

It is not certain, but a reduction in the need for travel due to mass penetration of IT is certainly a welcome sign.

Air travel becoming cost competitive to II AC

Indian Railways can conveniently shift to III AC where the earning per coach is slightly more as compared to II AC. The fare of II AC Rajdhani is Rs 2860/- with the number of berths 46 thus earning Rs. 131560/- per trip. The fare of III AC Rajdhani is Rs. 2080/- with the number of berths 64, thus earning Rs. 133120/-. Indian Railway shall concentrate in the segment where it is highly competitive as compared to Air because in no way it can attract passenger from Air mode to Rail. The attractive segment for heavy demand is III AC, intercity travel up to 600-700 Km by day time fast or overnight train.  Even with 160-200 Kmph speed band, it may be difficult to attract passenger from air to rail where the journey time involved is more than 16 hrs.

Unwelcome gesture towards a passenger

Except for high-class travel, the passenger is not looked upon with respect and smile. The slogan of ‘touch and feel’ very popular during 2006-07 needs a relook.

The uncertainty of confirmation of ticket

This is the most important factor that is driving away the passenger from Railways. Is it really a rush or mismanagement? Why waiting list up to 100-200 gets cleared? Unless a third-party audit is arranged, the truth will never be known. This is the most important need but does not qualify as passenger amenity. An idea to address this problem is given later in the article.

Heavy rush during peak hours (Sub-urban traffic)

Only accustomed daily passenger utilizes the services during peak hours. No one else dares to venture rail travel during this period. Indian Railways is not showing any good intention to work for sub-urban daily commuters. This is mainly due to the poor realization of cost due to the heavily subsidized monthly ticket.  But it no way, IR can avoid it. Poor sub-urban services will only hamper running of other fast and freight trains on the system.

Non-peak hours

The passengers who don’t dare to travel by sub-urban trains during peak hours also avoids during non-peak. The reason still is uncertainty. He decides in favor of road due to the frequency of service, availability of seat and dropping near to his house. Indian Railway will continue to lose this traffic unless dedicated efforts are made. Solutions are discussed in the end.

Short distance passengers are running away

This is similar to what has been stated in non-peak hours.

Where the solution does lies to look for passenger business growth?

There are three modes of passenger travel i.e. long distance reserved class, short or long distance unreserved and daily commuter. All passengers travel is equally important and most of the time it drives each other. A passenger dropping after long distance will need short distance travel to his house. Does Indian Railway really cares and connect for his last mile short distance travel? Certainly not. Indian Railways has been talking of inter-modal transport system, but what about ease in intra-rail connectivity with the facility of fare, timing, information spread etc.

Reserved Class travel

  1. Using Information technology to benefit passenger and improving revenue

Passenger reservation system handles reservation of berth/seat for the intending journey. The process of reservation and cancellation is continuous. After the chart is printed, the train is handed over the TTE of the coach to check the vacant berths and allot thereafter. Here starts the leakage of revenue for IR.

Indian Railway does not have the information in its data bank about the utilization of the reserved seat-km capacity. Suppose a train travels for a distance of  1000 Km with 1000 seats in reserved SL coach than the capacity is of 1 million seat-km. What is the utilization?

A system shall be introduced in which each passenger shall confirm his intention of travel through mobile or by fixed or mobile machine installed at stations. The waitlisted passenger shall also check-in indicating his intention of travel if a vacant seat is made available. The passenger reservation system shall update the position 10 minutes before the scheduled departure of the train and allot vacant berths to checked-in wait list passenger. The train shall remain connected to PRS with facility for the passenger to search vacant berth/seat availability for any distance of travel. Imagine the e-taxi type mobile portal for the rail passenger wherein he fills-in his intention of travel and he gets the information of train lined up with vacant berths. This is the surest way to attract passenger towards rail transport with no hassle which he generally experiences at the railway station.

The train shall remain on the PRS till arrival at the destination.

This is how the NTES gives the position of the expected arrival of the train at Jhansi for the journey to Bhopal within next 2 hours. The availability of berths class wise along with fare and facility to book the ticket on mobile itself is the best passenger amenity which Indian Railway shall plan for. Capture

  1. Remove pantry cars

Indian Railways has introduced a concept of e-catering wherein a passenger can order his food need over mobile and which can be served to him at his seat at the stopping station. With this being the situation, IR shall make its intention clear of replacing the pantry cars by passenger carrying coach.

When airways have gone for no-frill fare and giving competition to railways, is it not prudent for Railways to also go for the system of serving food only on demand. With e-catering management, it is possible to serve the food of choice. There is an enormous benefit to Railways with this change namely (a) reduced fare (b) fare competition with airways (c) taking care of the biggest source of complaint at present (d) reducing wastage of food etc.

This is the biggest hindrance towards increasing the number of coaches in Rajdhani trains because two pantry cars are attached if the number of passenger coaches goes to 20. The engine and platform capacity exists to run 22 coach LHB Rajdhani trains and one can imagine the revenue boost with this measure.

  1. Marketing of Trains

A passenger attaches his value by the train he travels. The most valued trains are Rajdhani, Shatabadi, Duranto and all other trains with numbering starting with 12…. The most poorly valued trains are special trains in which the passenger opts as the last resort. An innovative effort was initiated to start with premium trains by using released ICF coaches from Rajdhani type trains. Such trains were having a dynamic fare structure. But there can be another approach towards this. All special trains shall be booked three months in advance for an end to end travel. The schedule train reservation shall start only 15 days in advance. The advantage is that the passenger whose travel plan is finalized much in advance gets confirmed reservation releasing pressure from the scheduled trains. With this dynamic fare shall be introduced on the conventional trains during the g festive season.

  1. Air Conditioned travel for sub-urban passenger

There is s continuous demand for AC coaches attached to sub-urban train but could not make it through yet. With the facility of mobile booking of a vacant seat as given in para 1 above, a passenger ready to pay for main line train can avail such trains say at Kalyan-Mumbai-Kalyan, Borivali-Mumbai Central-Borivali etc. The trains are running almost 50% empty and IR can earn considerably by opening these berths for infrequent sub-urban traffic.

Unreserved Class Travel

There is no information available at any moment about the availability of space even to stand in unreserved coach. It is not for sure that the unreserved coach runs to optimum capacity all the time. There are special trains, the unreserved coach of which is not fully patronized. In case sufficient vacant space is available in general coach, the challenge is to communicate it to all the passenger intending to travel in that direction. It is necessary for a commercial staff to estimate the occupancy and update the status on UTS server. A mobile app similar to the one developed by e-taxi wherein the passenger on entering the data of his intended journey is given  information about the approaching trains and status of the unreserved coach about availability  in four categories such as Heavy, Medium, Normal and thin etc.

Daily Commuters

The drop in traffic in this category does not bother Railways much. But it is an important link for the last mile connectivity. The road users can conveniently be attracted to avail non-peak services depending on direction and timings by providing hassle free ticketing, trolley or fixed rate by porters, escalators etc.

The implementation of above will bring in the turnaround of passenger business on Indian Railways


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There Are 4 Comments

  1. arun kumar maity says:

    Sir, Railways has withdrawn a pantry car from rajdhani express w’e’f 01.03.2016 to add one coach for passenger, it is very good thing but railways expenditure has not reduced because the number of escorting staff are same as earlier. Their TA, OT, Night duty and other allowance are being paid by Railaways, although without their service, month of April and May 2016 the Rajdhani and Shatabdi express was running without difficulty. From the month of Jun 2016, all the extra staff are running in rajdhani and shatabdi express. In shatabdi express, the announcemet could be done by TS/TTE, but for this silly duty, a number of staff is booked for the above duty, expenditure of Railways has increased treamendously.

    • Mahesh Kumar Jain says:

      I agree with you. It is the most difficult call on part of the IR to work for reducing the manpower or finding an alternate work for them. This is the most important area to reduce operating cost to turn around of Railways but no one can dare act on it.

  2. GIRISH KUMAR G says:

    Why can’t railways introduce trains during the peak hours ? I’m a native of calicut and I work at bangalore. From Calicut, daily there are 40+ buses to bangalore. There is only a single train Yeshwanthpur-kannur express that passes through calicut to bangalore and everyday the waiting list is around 200+. So if the railways can introduce a train starting from Calicut – Yeshwantpur with all reserved coaches (no general coaches) , even then people will get a comfortable journey and IR will get more revenue.

    Another thing is to simply reschedule the train timings so that it simply don’t need to halted for long time at stations. For example the karwar express from bangalore to karwar

    9 HAS HASSAN 1 01:20 01:35 15:00 259
    10 SKLR SAKLESHPUR 1 02:45 03:00 15:00 301
    11 SBHR SUBRAHMANYA RD 1 05:50 05:55 05:00 412

    It has 15 minutes halt each at hassan and sakleshpur, then it takes 3 hours to travel 100 kilometers, which they could have tried to make it in say 150 minutes rather than 180 minutes. Similarly there are many places, where they can simply cut down the travel time. When more time is taken for travelling, people go through other modes of transport like roadways.

    Last thing, there is no need for sleeper tickets during day time travel. Everything should be put as reserved. If some one asks for sleeper tickets and if seats are vacant, the ticketing clerk can given them reserved tickets. Similarly in a train that starts at 7pm and takes maximum of 13-14 hours journey to reach its destination, remove general coaches and add more sleeper reservation coaches and reduce the number of AC coaches also.

    Try making every class A and class B station similar to metro stations so that every one will have to pay for tickets to travel in trains.

  3. Need to give tremendous to intercity class trains and it’ll be wise, if intercity superfast trains should cover minimum 500km. Increase of ac chair car coaches and reintroduction of pantry or restaurant cars with some important intercity trains. Am an intercity ac class passenger and I can say howrah ranchi shatabdi Express should travel beyond 500 km and trains like coalfield Express & black diamond express must have restaurant cars and should cover a distance up to 500km. Trains should be more speedier and railways should less important and suburban stations.