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Why not confirmed seat on demand be a logo for Indian Railways?

By on September 18, 2016

There was news the other day, “Confirmed seat on demand by 2020: Railways,” But no mention of “How”? As the news goes, it appears that with the progress of the traffic facility and doubling/tripling of railway line works, the throughput will increase, so the running of more trains. Thus, it is presumed that train capacity will enhance to match the demand.

Indian Railway has a misguided and misinterpreted belief that demand is more than supply and continues to believe it for ages without analyzing the root cause. The demand is inferred based on the length of the waiting list. This is not a correct interpretation. Most of the time, a passenger books multiple trains/class due to uncertainties and not knowing what to do.

Why demand is more than supply, not the reason?

  • There is a continued downward trend of the number of passengers (non-suburban) during the last five years, with 4016.41 million in 2012-13 to 3692.52 in 2015-16, a drop of 9.19% and the trend continuing in 2016-17 as well. The month and Year-wise trend of passenger traffic since April 2012 is given in the graph below.

passenger-traffic
Source: http://www.indianrailways.gov.in/railwayboard/view_section.jsp?lang=0&id=0,1,304,366,554,1361

  • Surprisingly, during the same period, the coach holding went up from 48037 to 51798 in 2014-15, i.e., an increase of 7.8%. The data for 2015-16 could not be found, but it is observed that the annual growth in coaching holding is of the order of 4%, and therefore, it is reasonable to assume that the coach holding has gone up by around 10% during the same period.              
Type of Vehicle 2011-12 2012-13 2013-14 2014-15
Passenger 46688 48037 50194 51798
EMU/DMU 8617 9184 9371 9725

Source: http://www.indianrailways.gov.in/railwayboard/uploads/directorate/stat_econ/2014-15/Summary%20Sheet_Eng.pdf

During Feb. each year, the number of passengers is about 20% less than peak traffic. But even during this month, getting confirmed tickets on demand is difficult. To begin with, IR shall declare confirmed reservations on demand during non-peak months, at least in months when demand is less than 300 million passengers/month.

Unless there are other reasons to disprove it, this only points the finger towards the mismanagement of reserved seat capacity of trains.

The figures for non-suburban passenger traffic from 2016 to 2020 are also not encouraging to say that the passengers are not getting attracted by whatever measures the railway management takes. The figures for these years are tabulated below:

Year Number of originating non-suburban passengers Number  of non-suburban passenger vehicles
2016-17 3550 55068
2017-18 3621 55749
2018-19 3655 57134
2019-20 3489 (-1.7%) 58853(+6.9%)
2020-21 333* 60725

* The passenger train services suspended for most of the time due the period

The Railway Management needs to brainstorm two important points in the passenger business.

  1. Why did passenger traffic goes down by 1.7%, even with the growth of passenger-carrying vehicles by 6.9%, and still, the passenger cannot get a confirmed ticket? 
  2. With no passenger traffic growth visible, does it not imply that originating non-suburban passenger traffic has reached a plateau? 

What is not known to Railway Management? 

Indian Railway compiles statistics of all sorts, but what is missing is the “Reserved Seat Capacity Utilization(RSKU).” A train having a reserved seating capacity of 1000 and running for a distance of 1000 Km means it has a total earning capacity of 1 million RSC. There is a general belief that trains run full primarily based on the waiting list position; therefore, RSC is believed to be 100%. But the truth will only be known if such statistical data is worked out. With computerization and data analysis tools available, this is not a difficult task except for the policymakers to accept that there is a hidden value in this evaluation. (Read more on RSKU)

There are many occasions when a passenger is on a long waiting list, gets confirmation at the last moment, and also finds the train half empty. A sample study on a few long-distance trains running an average speed of less than 60 kmph will be an eye-opener.

This shall be called Artificial Scarcity and hoarding of reserved berths by the PRS system. It appears that the algorithm is not kept dynamic with the changing trend of the demand pattern.

Are Special Trains doing any good to Railways?

Indian Railway runs many special trains during school vacations and the festive season to clear the extra rush. The passenger books these trains as a standby and cancels if he gets a confirmation in a regular train. The reputation of special trains is at rock bottom compared to regular trains due to punctuality, shortage of amenities, poor onboard services, etc. The RSKU of these trains will certainly be less than 50%. A simple reason is that no Railway officials or passengers seeking reservation through emergency quota dare travel on these trains.

It is, therefore, important for IR to look at the following suggestive measures to popularize these trains.

  1. The punctuality of these trains shall be counted in the overall punctuality figures, which are not present.
  2. Run these trains from end to end except for commercial halt matching with a halt for operating and e-catering service.
  3. Outsource the onboard facility like cleaning, bedroll, e-catering, tea vending, etc.
  4. Introduce a system of seat choice similar to airways.
  5. No emergency quota
  6. No unreserved class and pantry car
  7. Advance reservations to open three months in advance and reduce the reservation time of the regular train to one month. It will attract all passengers looking for a reservation.
  8. Include a few of the existing regular non-stop trains, such as Duanto, also in this category of special trains.

The objective of the suggestive measures is to clear as much as possible of the peak, seasonal, and regular traffic to special trains so that regular trains are available for on-demand booking.

Special train management, thus, needs a rethinking and approach. Traffic from normal trains is not getting diverted to special trains. This is the essence of the problem. If not fixed, things will not improve.

Update 18-11-2016 : Hindu news – http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/railways-threaten-to-withdraw-special-train-citing-poor-patronage/article9359535.ece

Do short-distance passengers bring loss to Railways?

Due to the telescopic nature of the fare structure, a reserved seat in 3 AC for a distance of 1500 Km earns Rs. 1490, and if three passenger travels for 500 Km each, the earnings go up to Rs.  2200/-. It is, therefore, important for Indian Railways to tap short-distance passenger traffic with the facility of online current booking on mobile.

This will require a revamp of the PRS as follows:

  1. Remove any restrictions on travel for short-distance passengers on the selective trains.
  2. The train shall remain on the PRS till the end of the journey. Or taken to a separate current reservation server after the chart is prepared.
  3. A passenger shall be required to check in through the registered mobile number given at the time of reservation. The link for submittal of his intention to travel shall be sent two hours in advance on his mobile and remain valid till 10 minutes before the scheduled departure of the train. Non-confirmation by him shall result in the cancellation of the ticket. The same message shall also be sent to the RAC/WL passenger. The position of the vacant seat will be known before the departure of the train and automatically passed on to the RAC/WL passenger, having given consent. If the canceled seat is booked again, the hefty last-minute cancellation charges can be reduced. This will attract the passenger towards the acceptability of the system.
  4. The status of the availability of berths will now be available online throughout the train travel till the destination.
  5. A passenger intends to travel from station A to B, say 250 Km apart, now searches the trains available from station A to B and requests for the availability of berths in each train with fare displayed class-wise. He makes an e-payment and books his seat.
  6. Free travelers book about 10% of seats, and it is important to have a system that encourages them to cancel the ticket in time if the travel plan is canceled.
  7. There is a strong demand for AC travel on Mumbai suburban network. The passenger starts de-training about 50 Km before the final destination, i.e., Kalyan/Borivali, etc. With the information of vacant berths/seats available online, the facility can also be availed by passengers who otherwise are not earning any revenue.

This is a win-win situation for Indian Railways helping to earn revenue and bringing an effort toward passenger delight.

This will help in improving the RSKU of each train. The passenger does not bother about the train’s reputation for short-distance journeys.

Waiting List in Passenger Trains

The waiting list is the biggest dampener resulting in losing potential traffic. No one knows how long the waiting list will get cleared. Sometimes, an additional coach is attached, or an already running extra coach is not taken in PRS, resulting in a long waiting list cleared at the last moment. This adds to uncertainties. Such ad-hoc and non-transparent approaches shall be kept under check.

For achieving the object of reservation on demand, the most important beginning is to retain waitlisted passengers by making on or offline customer care efforts such as

  1. Asking for his other options for alternative trains, dates, and classes of travel. Such options shall be entered as an alternative waiting list (AWL).
  2. The waiting list and the alternate waiting list together will be a better index to deciding on the attachment of an extra coach. Any plan to attach an extra coach shall be decided much in advance and taken on PRS to clear the waiting list.
  3. There shall be a provision for online refund of fare, cancellation of earlier ticket, and issue of the confirmed ticket.

Transparency in Current Reservation 

After the introduction of the computerized passenger reservation system, with the train remaining on the PRS till its destination, it should be possible to book online reserved tickets at any station after the departure of the train.

A wake-up call for Indian Railways to attack travelers

Air and Road infrastructure growth has picked up in India. There is every likely hood of transfer of short distance passenger to the road and long distance to Air. New expressways where the passenger can travel at an average speed of around 90 Kmph are being announced every month. This happening will shift the economics of travel, even for medium-distance passengers, from rail to the road. The rail fare per family ticket will not be economical compared to traveling by a hired vehicle for a family of three or four with the additional benefit of door-to-door travel. Indian Railway will never be able to match most of the comfort of the road and air. Retaining the existing passengers and adding to it will be a challenge.

Holding and improving the top line of passenger business is the first responsibility of Indian Railways to retain the title of being called a National Transporter. Instead of blaming passenger businesses as loss-making and considering revising the passenger fare, Indian Railway management shall brainstorm and innovate measures to improve the top line.  

 

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There Are 2 Comments

  1. Namdeo Rabade says:

    In depth analysis done by author, the suggestions given will be highly beneficial if implemented.

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