CHENNAI: Southern Railway neither increased fares nor launched new trains and still earned Rs 227.54 crore more from passenger ticket sales in the 2017-18 financial year, compared to the preceding year. How? Through clever ‘rebranding’ it appears.
Official records accessed by Express reveal that Southern Railway used three strategies. First, it earmarked more seats for premium tatkal. Second, it converted existing trains into Suvidha trains — a new brand created by NDA government that charges nearly three times the fare of normal services but offers virtually the same services as some other trains. Third, it converted regular express trains into superfast express trains and in some trains converted unreserved coaches into reserved coaches. Unsurprisingly, over 98 per cent or Rs 225.67 crore of the additional revenue was earned from reserved passengers.
The Southern Railway has seen a total of 44.7 lakh more reserved passengers travelling in the last financial year. But many new tracks laid in Tamil Nadu were under-utilised because not many new trains were introduced. According to the official records accessed by Express, the Southern Railway passenger earnings stood at Rs 5060.35 crore in 2017-18. This is around a 4.6 per cent hike from the previous year’s earning of Rs 4832.81 crore.
While demand has remained high across Tamil Nadu, instead of adding new regular trains, Southern Railway has adopted “back-door” and “exploitative” techniques to augment its revenue, rued regular passengers.
Official records revealed the Southern Railway earned Rs 106.24 crore for 2017-18 operating a total of 1,696 Suvidha trains and special fare services in 2017-18. The earnings from such special trains in 2016-17 were much lower at Rs 76.35 crore.
K Baskar, member, Divisional Rail Users Consultative Committee, said railways should introduce new trains or operate special fare trains in place of Suvidha trains, which are announced based on demand. “Railways should not take advantage of higher demand and exploit passengers,” he said.
“It costs between Rs 2500 and Rs 3000 to travel from Madurai to Chennai by Suvidha 3rd AC. We have to pay the excess fare without additional service,” said R Santhanam, a rail enthusiast and Tirunelveli native. Introduction of premium tatkal quota and fewer unreserved coaches in long-distance trains also increased ticket fares. Under premium tatkal quota, fares increase by 20 per cent after every 10 per cent of berths are sold subject to the existing cap on dynamic fare. “Until a few years ago, trains had minimum three to four unreserved coaches. Railways have increased reserved coaches to increase revenue,” demanded Baskar.
Southern Railway did not opt for the public-friendly means of increasing revenue — introducing new trains. Proposed new trains have yet to materialise. Similarly, two years since completion of gauge conversion in the Pollachi-Palani-Podanur section, Railways are yet to introduce new daily trains. Railway officials said there were proposals to introduce more trains in the Chennai-Madurai and Pollachi-Podanur sections. “Once regular trains are introduced, Suvidha services may be reduced,” said the officer.