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Why not confirmed seat on demand before 2020?

By on September 18, 2016

There was news the other day “Confirmed seat on demand by 2020: Railways” But no mention “How”? As the news goes, it appears that with the progress of traffic facility and doubling/tripling of line work, the throughput will increase and so the running of more trains. Thus, it is presumed that train capacity will enhance to match the demand.  Indian Railway is having misconstrued belief that demand is more than supply and continue to believe it 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 book in multiple train/class due to uncertainties and not knowing what to do.

Why demand is more than supply is 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 are given in the graph below.


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 has gone up from 48037 to 51798 in 2014-15 i.e. increase of 7.8%. The data of 2015-16 could not found out 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.              
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 the month of Feb. in each year, the number of passengers is about 20% less as compared to peak traffic. But even during this month, it is difficult to get confirmed ticket on demand. To begin with, IR shall declare reservation on demand during non-peak months at least, when demand is less than 300 million passengers/month.

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

What is hidden?

Indian Railway compiles statistics of all sort but what is missing is the “Reserved Seat Capacity Utilization(RSU)”. A train having reserved seating capacity of 1000 and runs for a distance of 1000 Km, means it has the total capacity of 1 million RSC. There is a general belief that trains run full primarily based on the waiting list position, and therefore, RSC is believed to be of the order of 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.

There are large many occasion when a passenger is in a long waiting list, gets confirmation at the last moment and also find train half empty. A sample study on a few of the 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 demand pattern.

Are Special Trains doing any good to Railways?

Indian Railway runs large many special trains during school vacation and festive season to clear extra rush. The passenger books in these trains as a standby and cancels if get confirmation in a regular train. The reputation of special trains is at rock bottom as compared to regular train due to punctuality, short of amenity, poor onboard services etc. The RSU of these trains will certainly be less than 50%. A simple reason that no Railway officials or any other passenger 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 there at present.
  2. Run these trains from end to end except 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 reservation to open three months in advance and reduce the advance reservation time of regular train to one month. It will attract all passenger looking for advance booking.
  8. Include 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 as well as regular traffic so that regular trains are available for on-demand booking.

Does short distance passenger bring loss to Railways?

Due to the telescopic nature of 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 earning goes 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. The earning capacity of a reserved seat for 1000  is Rs.446/-  and the fare for the short distance, say 100 Km., shall be between Rs. 45/- and the bus fare on the same route without levying any other charge.

This will require a revamp of the PRS as follows:

  1. Remove any restrictions of travel for short distance passenger on any train.
  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 to 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 also. 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. In case, the canceled seat is booked again, the last minute hefty cancellation charges can be reduced. This will attract the passenger towards acceptability of the system.
  4. The status of the availability of berths will now be available online throughout its journey to till 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 e-payment and books his seat.
  6. About 10% of seats are booked by free travelers and it is important to have a system in place that they are encouraged 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 such passengers which otherwise is not earning any revenue.

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

This will help in improving RSU of each train. For short distance journey, the passenger does not bother about the reputation of the train.

Waiting List

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

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

  1. Asking his other options of alternative train, date, and class. 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 decide for attachment of an extra coach. Any plan to attach 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.


After the introduction of computerized passenger reservation system and reforms thereafter, the online current reservation at any station even when the train is entering at the station will be the biggest railway reform to bring a smile on the face of the passenger.

Wake up call

Air and Road infrastructure growth have picked up India. There is every likely hood of transfer of short distance passenger to the road and long distance to Air. Indian Railway will never be able to match the comfort of the road (door to door delivery)  and air (faster and comfortable movement) and at least effort shall be made to retain the existing passenger.

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

Special trains management is poor. Traffic from normal trains not getting diverting. This is the essence of the problem. If not fixed, things will not improve.

Loosing top line is more dangerous, inviting criticism and loosing a say in world organisation as compared to the bottom 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.