While everyone has been quite generous in heaping praise on Shri Lalu Prasad Yadav – the Hon’ble Minister for Railways , Government of India – for the amazing turnaround that he has been credited for bringing about in the Indian Railways, I quietly tend to disagree.
The general public and the press have been almost tom-toming and singing praises of Bihar’s favorite son.
Here are a few things he has done to the Indian Railways that he should not have. Each reason seen individually might not seem to account for much. Add up the money saved/earned by these methods and you will know why Indian Railways has started making profits.
Increase in Tatkal Quota
This one is double edged. While enabling the last minute traveller to get confirmed reservations more easily, it also adds up to the money box. Each Sleeper Class/Second Class reserved passenger shells out Rs 150 extra while an AC traveller has to shell out Rs 300 extra. Only in the ‘Non-peak’ months of July-Sep this is halved. That too only for a few ‘unpopular’ trains. Initially when Tatkal was introduced, it used to be 10% of the carrying capacity of each class. Today in most of the popular trains it is half the carrying capacity while in all others it is a quarter of it. Count the bucks !
Enhanced Reservation Fee
If you book a ticket from a station which is not the originating point of the train, you are charged Rs 10 or Rs 20 extra per ticket for Non AC / AC classes respectively. This means that if you book a Mumbai to Kolkata ticket at Delhi, you are charged extra. Infact, this also applies to return journeys. Booking a ticket from Hyderabad to Delhi at Hyderabad will not attract premium, but booking your return journey ticket together with it will do so. Add up the cash!
The Advance reservation period has also been increased to 90 days from the earlier 60 days. That means you can now book the tickets 3 months in advance. That also means Lalu will keep your money for an extra 30 days with him, stack it in the bank and get tonnes of interest on it. Awesome, right?
POH period enhanced
Each coach which carries passengers on Indian Railways undergoes what is termed as Periodic Overhaul (POH) every 12 months. You can find at the back of each coach the date markings of the date when POH was done, and the scheduled date of return for the next overhaul.
Technically, this should be 12 months. But a lot of coaches are actually marked for 18 months. Some are marked 12, but it is common to find coaches which have exceeded that. This means that instead of every 12 months, a coach undergoes overhaul every 15-18 months.
If a workshop was servicing 50 coaches a month (example) a couple of years ago, it is still doing the same even though a number of new coaches have been added to stock. So instead of 60, it still does 50.
In a POH, the broken parts are repaired, light bulbs/tubes replaced, torn seats replaced, suspension overhauled, batteries replaced, wiring repaired if needed, additional charging plug points provided and the coach is repainted.
It costs the Indian Railways about 3-4 lakh Rupees for POH of each coach. Add up 4 lacs for each of the 10 coaches per week per workshop. There are atleast 2 such workshops in each of the 16 zones on Indian Railways.
The Annual figure is staggering.
Increase in Freight charges
This is one area the passengers will not clammer about. The freight charges on Indian Railways are one of the highest in the world. The only reason the system runs is because the customers find it faster and cheaper by rail considering that most roads in the country are in shambles, lack of good high capacity trucks and the fact that inter-state goods transport attracts so many taxes and long detensions by officials and police to extract moolah.
Overloading of Freight trains
These days, wagons are made to carry more than what they are originally intended to. CC+8+2 or CC+4+2 is now a common terminology. Filling a wagon upto 10 tonnes more than its approximate carrying capacity of 55 tonnes is helping Lalu reap profits everyday. But in the long run, this leads to rail fatigue, fractures, wagons may not last their lifetime and would need overhauling more frequently.
This cost may not appear in the account books today, but would pile up and spoil the figures tomorrow.
For a couple travelling by train, the side berths have been the most convinient. Whether it is Sleeper Class or AC 3 tier, the side berths are the preferred berths, unless one can give the Big B some competition in height. You gotta forget that soon. Thanks to Lalu’s new innovation – The Side Middle Berth (SMB).
As in the main bay, even the sides will have 3 berths soon. The Side Upper is going to be raised to a height which will leave only a couple of inches above your face while sleeping! The extra person is going to sit in the main bay. So in the main bay, instead of three on one side, there will be four.
Whether you are in the main bay or the sides, you are cramped for space. This adds up 9 passengers per coach in Sleeper and 8 in AC 3 Tier. Add up the fares and you can dream of getting rich!
Dummy Superfast Trains
Approximately, about 450 Mail/Express trains (excluding Rajdhani/Shatabdi) run on the Indian Railway network. More than 250 of these are termed ‘Superfast’. That means that they achieve an average speed of 55kmph in both up and down journeys. Now, out of these 250, at least 150 of these have their average speeds in the range of 55.1 – 60kmph. In other words, if these trains get late by a few minutes, their average speeds go down below 55, which is below the Super Fast (SF) mark specified by Indian Railways.
Atleast 50 such trains exist which would loose their SF tag if they are late by even 5-10 mins. Considering the legendary non-punctuality of Indian trains, it is more a norm that they run late. An example of a train which I frequently use. The 2747 Guntur-Vikarabad Palnadu express takes 385mins to cover 354kms at an average speed of 55.16 kmph. If this train gets late by even 2 minutes, its average speed dips below 55kmph. I have never ever seen this train reach VKB without a delay of atleast 20mins.
Now, why am I giving this description?
Because for every superfast train ticket, a passenger pays Rs 8 for Second Class, Rs 20 for Sleeper Class, Rs 30 for AC 2/3 tier and Rs 50 for AC 1st Class over above the basic fare structure. If one books a Tatkal ticket, that premium applies too.
Now, go figure out how much Indian Railways gains by these methods!