CHENNAI: In a yet another backdoor way to increase revenue, Southern Railway has started replacing sleeper berths with third AC berths which cost Rs 500 to Rs 800 more for a ticket on busy routes.
The number of sleeper berths in Pandian Express, one of the most sought-after trains in Tamil Nadu, between Chennai and Madurai, is to be reduced to 702 (nine LHB coaches) by August 20. The train had 864 sleeper berths (12 coaches) until a few years ago when it was operated with ICF coaches.
Similarly, Chennai Egmore - Tiruchy Rockfort Express and Chennai - Tiruchy Cholan Express which have rake link with Pandian Express also lost about 130 to 145 sleeper berths in the last couple of years.
The sleeper berth share in trains began to shrink when railways replaced the conventional ICF coaches with LHB coaches in August 2016. Subsequently, sleeper berths were further reduced after railways replaced the coaches with third AC coaches in trains which had high passenger demand. This information was revealed in an official release by Southern Railway recently.
“We already pay exorbitant fares for premium tatkal tickets, which was created by moving 50 per cent of tatkal tickets to this category. Now, another 10 to 15 per cent sleeper berths have been converted to third AC sleeper class, forcing us to pay an additional Rs 500 to Rs 800 a ticket. This is completely unacceptable,” rued R Krishnan of Madurai, a regular train commuter.
A third AC berth between Chennai and Madurai costs Rs 815, while the sleeper berth fare is Rs 315. The AC tatkal fare is Rs 1130, while the sleeper tatkal fare is Rs 415.
Much to dismay of rail passengers, recently the railway board approved LHB coaches for the Chennai - Tirunelveli Nellai Express and Chennai - Sengottai Podhigai Express. These two trains are also expected to lose two sleeper coaches (approximately 130 sleeper berths) once the ICF rakes are replaced with LHB rakes.
The rakes currently have 864 sleeper berths in 12 ICF coaches. However, the train is expected to get 10 LHB coaches thereby reducing the sleeper berths to 780 (78 berths per coach).
Rail passengers charged that railways was exploiting passengers taking advantage of the high transportation demand.
“South-bound trains will lose about 500 sleeper berths a day. This will result in increase in demand for sleeper berths in Chennai - Tiruchy - Madurai - Tirunelveli routes, benefiting omni buses,” added K Shankar, a rail enthusiast in Chennai.
When contacted, a senior railway official said trains that are run with less than 24 coaches (maximum number of coaches permitted for operation) are augmented with an AC coach without changing the train composition. “However, for trains that are operated with 24 coaches, a sleeper coach was removed to include a 3-tier AC coach. It is a policy decision by railway board being implemented across India,” explained the officer.
Total number of sleeper berths reduced from 864 to 702 in Pandiyan Express
Pandiyan Express, Rockfort Express and Cholan Express to run with additional 3-tier AC coach after August 20
Railway Board approved LHB coaches for Nellai and Podhigai Expresses
Number of sleeper coaches likely be reduced from 12 to 10
Sleeper berths will come down from 864 to 780 for Nellai and Podhigai Expresses in another few months
AC three tier coach augmented in Puducherry-New Delhi train recently