Thursday, March 15, 2012

Indian Railways-Some Suggestions for Improvements from a Passenger !

Ever since I moved out of my home state Kerala some time in 1978, I have been a user of the long distance travel facility provided by the Indian Railways- the largest service facility directly run by the Government of India other than the defence services.

Though many monopolistic government run businesses and services  in the fields of air travel, telecommunication, courier services, mass communication, mining and manufacturing, etc got corporatized and privatized in the recent past, the railway system mostly remained directly in the hands of the government. Corporate entities like the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation Limited (IRCTC) etc  have been formed in the recent years by the Ministry of Railways which has allowed some functions to be carried out as corporate business. Even companies like the Konkan Railway and the Delhi Metro Rail doing the business of trail transport service in select sectors have come up as separate entities under the administrative control of the Railway Ministry, which shows the shift in the policy shift of the government in this context.

Beyond that, the government seems direction less with regard to the policy to be adopted with regard to this essential public service system. The result is that the railway system continues to be run as a government department with its inherent advantages and disadvantages. Again such directionless policies are bound to get evolved in a democratic country having a population of uneven development. So, there is no point in criticising the government and I am not doing that.

A user of the railways need not be worried about the ownership and the management control of this organization so far it continues to provide the services befitting to the time and the aspirations of the public.

If run efficiently like a business entity, the Indian railway system would perhaps be the largest business opportunity in India. The moot question is the big if.

How can you bring about quick business like decision making in a mammoth organization which is run on the basis rules and administrative systems essentially made for public accountability rather than public benefit and overall sustainability ?

As a user of the system for the last more than three decades, I can say this for sure. The railway system has become more and more centralized now. The railway officers in local areas seems powerless in resolving common problems of the passengers now, which was not the case some decades ago. Of course we need not be worried about how the railways do their management and administration, provided they do it well.

The Indian public uses the railways for both long distance travel involving monotonous sitting or sleeping having a time span of 3-60 hours and for short distance travel involving sitting or standing for time spans as short as10 Minutes to as long as 6 hours. The requirements of the passengers in the short distance and long distance cases are different.

For all travellers, what is most important is the comfort with respect of sitting, sleeping, cleanness, catering, safety, security, communication, smoothness, speed, booking convenience, costs and of course a comfortable cabin ambiance.

Indian railways are used by poor and rich people alike. There are thousands who can afford to pay reasonable costs for a comfortable travel. That is the great business opportunity for the Railways. 

The problem with the Indian Railways is that the decisions for starting rail services are more political than based on professional assessments. This results in uneven and unscientific distribution of the services which causes great losses to the organisation and discomfort to the public both at the same time.

One of the greatest weakness of the railway management system is its reluctance to use modern computerized ticket reservation systems which ensures highest occupancy of the available berths and seats. It is a common fact that no one can think of getting a reservation in any trains in most of the routes in a short span due to the inherent lacunae in the reservation system.

As a rail passenger I have come across many instances in my own personal experience when the railway reservation system showed non availability of berths and seats while the actual situation in the same train was with an occupancy rate of even less than 50% for more than 50% of the travel distance.

In reality most of the trains are running empty for most of the time in the year while thousands are waiting for reservations !

In this context, I remember a case of travel by a state road transport bus service in the state of Andhra Pradesh two decades ago, when computerisation was just in the initial stages. I went to reserve a ticket for a travel from Vijayawada to Ramagundam. The reservation clerk at the Vijayawada Bus Station showed me the seating system of the bus on his computer terminal with the seats that are available for my travel. I gave my choice and he issued me the reserved tickets for the travel by a particular state road transport bus later in the day.

I thought that bus would be starting from there. But to my surprise I saw the bus reaching the station from another town with lot of passengers. When the bus arrived, the seats reserved for me too were occupied and I was a bit worried. But to my relief, soon those passengers occupying my seats alighted there and I got the seats reserved for without any problem. Again the bus started from there with full occupancy !

All these years I was wondering, why our railways were not in a position to do such kind of a reservation system ?

To my simple logic it seems that they have just got satisfied with the computerization of the seat or berth quota system that used to be there before computerization ! If some one books a berth from Vijayawada to Ramagundam on a train in the route, then no one can perhaps reserve the berth or seat from Ramagundam to say Nagpur even when the seat would be physically vacant as the earlier passenger has alighted the train.

For those in the knowledge of computers, this is not at all a difficult thing to implement. Somehow, the railway mandarins seem not at all comfortable to implement such an easy modification which would benefit both the railways and the passengers.

If the huge extra earning potential of the Travelling Ticket Examiners (TTE) of the railways is the main concern, then of course no one can perhaps think of implementing such things. Rail users like me, are at a loss to understand the logic of the railway management in this !

Many trains with latest comforts are run between awkward stations and at awkward times that they mostly run as show pieces while thousands suffer incapable of using those trains. I do not want to name those trains. People know it. The only logic of running those trains seems ego satisfaction of some local politicians !

This was some random thoughts that just came into my mind on the day the railway budget of India was getting presented on the Lok Sabha by the Railway Minister belonging to one of the political parties of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government.

I haven't gone through the details of the budget which was presented and I do not want to do that. But something remarkable has just happened.

The Railway Minister's own party has disowned his budget. His party chief became so annoyed that the party has asked for his removal. The head of the coalition has to just fall in line, even when they all are in praise of the policies that are presented in the said budget by this minister.

It is no surprise ! That is the way this country is evolving !

You just cannot dream of having good management systems and governance in a country which is in its infancy state of development and initial stages of experimentation with democracy.
I know there could be thousands of learned and knowledgeable persons in this country of over a billion. But their views are minority voices.

Minority voices do not have the power to make changes, unless they occupy the 'trump-card' position by accidents of time !

So is the case with the Indian Railways.

There are thousand and one ways that this organization is moulded in to one of the best in the world.

There could be scores of good managers , administrators and professionals in the Indian railway organization who knows the ways and means of doing that.

But that is of no use in a democratically evolving set up like this for the time being.

To be a knowledgeable and competent person among a majority that has not reached that state of mind capacity indeed is a painful thing !

So why to give suggestions for improving the railways now ?

Should I reserve it for the opportunistic moment of the future, if at all it comes ?

Even so, let me write down some of those suggestions the railway authorities could keep in mind for implementing if they ever feel doing some thing for improving the great Indian railways :

1. Do some real surveys to find out those loss making train services and take actions not to put the best and brand new coaches for those services. Use the brand new coaches for the long distance trains only as a policy.

2. Lease out some railway space in all railway stations in major cities and towns where private players can set up decent traveller accommodations for genuine passengers who reserve their journey in advance for a comfortable stay for periods not exceeding one or two days. The rooms so provided shall be neat, clean and preferrably with air conditioning or fans and with clean toilets. Star rated luxuries are not what the passengers need, but reasonable neatness, comforts, safety and affordability. Their should be provisions for booking such accommodations in advance while the tickets are booked. Presently many stations have retiring rooms maintained directly by the railway employees. They keep the most ridiculous type of staff to look after these at present who have no manners or courtsey. More over in many crowded stations, such rooms are perennially not available for genuine passengers. If this facility is available, many long distant travellers could conveniently break their tiring train journey enroute to take a refreshing break in some other cities and towns and continue their journeys comfortably in other short distance trains. If the railway managers use their brains properly, they can very well do it in the most beneficial manner for both the railways and the passengers.

3. Raiway can think of implementing the system of 'registered baggage handling' facility for the long distance travel for main sectors of travel just as the airlines are doing. For example for those reserved a/c class passengers travelling between Delhi and Mumbai shall have their registered baggages handed over to the baggage handlers at Delhi and take them back at Mumbai from the baggage office. The railway may fix the type of baggage the passengers are required to carry for this purpose and the maximum number of pieces and their weights. They may also charge a fee for excess baggage. There should be one secured baggage coach in all long distance trains. This service could also be entrusted to private players ensuring proper quality. This would reduce the mad rush in the stations. The railways should also ensure availability of porters for carrying and loading luggage of the passengers and a facility to avail these services with advance booking.

4. Make all long distance trains with air conditioned class only. The system of allotment of seats berths shall be based on the distance travelled rather than the preferrence of the passengers. For example all passengers travelling day time for less than 8 hours shall be booked only on chair car. Those travelling 8-24 hours shall be on a/c 3-tier coaches. Those travelling more than 24 hours shall be on a/c 2-tier coaches. The air conditioned first class  services shall be totally eliminated and such coaches shall be available only on special tourist services or for official purposes. The number of each category of coaches shall be based on the passenger demand as analysed by past history.

5. Non-a/c coaches shall be limited short distance travel trains which run less than a day. If possible such trains shall be run only in those regions where the temperatures do not exceed 32 degrees celcius.

6. Make all long distance a/c coach trains with catering charges included in the cost of travel just as now being done for Rajdhani and Shadabdi type train services. This will eliminate passengers to travel with lighter luggage avoiding those filled with all kinds of eatables. This will also reduce the influx of all kinds of vendors in the coaches disturbing the passengers.

7. There should be announcements for the passengers regarding the approaching stations and the time of halt, delays etc in all the coaches. It is not a difficult thing to implement for the railways if the want to do this. It should be a mandatory service. Though this is available now in Rajdhani and Shadabdi trains, it is not strictly followed by those responsible for implementing this without fail.

8. The Indian railways is a mammoth organization. Centralization of authority for each and every thing would cause serious damage and the local railway officers showing their helplessness to deal with the genuine grievances of the passengers. Railways should provide adequate powers for their officers who are to face the public and notify those officers, their contact details and their powers for decision making. It is quite natural that the ministers, being public representatives, liking to grab all powers of decision making. But they should remember that unless they delegate their powers effectively they would become laughing stock in the eyes of the public whose position do not show any results of effective management !

There could be more such suggestions.

I request the learned readers who use the Indian railways to open up their feelings and suggestions  here using the blog comments tool.


  1. Accidents keep taking place in the Indian Railways killing hundreds of people every year. Today morning there was a fire accident in on of the prestigious long distance express train (the Tamil Nadu Express) which killed at least 47 people. The cause of the fire was apparently some electric short circuit. This kind of accident is becoming common now. The fire spreads too fast and kills many before any one realizes what happened. There is no automatic fire signal system. It seems that the panicked people rushed to the doors which didnot open. What is the relevance of emergency exits? The railway need to bench mark their designs with other developed nations. The IR seems to be very satisfied with the in-house design and engineering systems they are having without any efforts for improving or training their engineers. If aviation sector could be privatized, railway also could be bifurcated and privatized for better efficiency.


  2. Subject: General class train travelling tickets through internet.

      I undersigned request that general class train travelling tickets (unreserved tickets) and railway platform tickets can be made through internet also. We are facing lots of problems at railway stations for getting general class (unreserved) and platform tickets. There is always a long queue. Passengers sometimes faces foul language from the ticket distributor in change of rupees while ticketing at windows.

    The general class (unreserved) or platform tickets can be generated through internet services like irctc or any authorized agency and e-ticket having certain key details of the passenger so that fake tickets cannot be done.
    1. Name of the passenger
    2. Valid photo identity card no. for e.g. PAN card no.

    The travelling ticket examiner or checker should have modern electronic gadgets connected with internet or having soft information detais from which tickets cross checking can be done and a fake or right ticket/passenger can be judged.
    If it is implemented a lady faces problems for getting a unreserved ticket at railway station in front of railway ticket counters can be solved out.
    Is there any way to file a PIL against indian railways to upgrade its services to general passengers .

    Thanking u.
    Zakir hussain
    surat, gujarat.

    1. You have brought up a very relevant topic Mr Hussain. The railway ministry, in my opinion should think of resolving the problems faced by the unreserved short distance travellers. It is an irony that the service provider (the railway) is not in a position to take even the money from the customers (the travelling public)in a decent manner. It is easy to do this also through the internet or through selling agents, if they want to do it. Atleast those of the travellers who do not mind paying a small extra fee or commission would not be troubled additionally by the tension and the push-pulls in the unrudy Q's and face other humiliations as you have mentioned. But unfortunately we have a bureaucratic ministry who is dispensing the service as if they are giving out alms to their wretched subjects whom they think no better than beggars ! The passengers association may try the PIL route to make the ministry to implement better solutions !

  3. To railway minister,
    sub- improvement in ticketing system
    sir i am a common man having a idea to improve ticketing system of local train, passengers don't have wait in Q, they can book there tickets through there mobile phones. this way passenger can save there time. passengers get there tickets on mobile via non-transferable sms, and amount of ticket will be deduct from mobile balance.
    you can contact me if u feel it is helpful

    thank you

  4. One sitting coach should add in all trains to accommodate waiting ticket holders only so in case ticket not coinferm at least they get seat

    1. Good suggestion. Railways should consider adding enough AC chair cars to all long distance trains which are fitted with big size luggage carrier space. Let only those who are not comfortable with sitting for long duration avail the sleeper facilities. Remember, passengers who travel by international flights even now sit for 12-24 hours! This way the railways could enhance the much needed seating capacity. Let the Railways think of ordering more chair car coaches instead of sleeper coaches!

  5. After a lapse of many years, IRCTC under the railway ministry has done something to improve the performance of the online ticket booking. The site has considerably increased. Kudos to them.
    But as some one above has suggested, they need to do some thing for the issue of unreserved tickets, season tickets, etc also through the internet. Let the SMS sent to the passengers mobile or a pdf file readable on an android mobile be the ticket instead of paper tickets, for those who have access to such facilities. This would greatly reduce the ticket counter crowds.
    There are many short haul trains which have facilities for reserved seats on chair cars. Presently the railways have restricted their advanced reservation period and it is much less than 2 months. I think this should be made at par with normal reservation time for long distance trains. This would help people like me to plan our travel in advance. For example, when I plan my travel 2 months ahead with either a rail reservation or air reservation to a metro like Kolkatta or Chennai or Trivandrum and I want to travel another 5 hours more travel to reach my destination by train, the advance reservation facility does not allow me to do it all together. I have to wait till such time that the reservation gets opened for the short haul train. This is really an inconvenience and there is no logic why the railway maintain this restriction.
    Would the authorities think and rectify this?

  6. Sir,very well written, My thoughts...

    First of all IR ministry and the railway budget be scrapped. IR must be a corporate entity, lease out the assets make money and generate revenue. As of now, to decide a stop for an express train, the approval has to come from Delhi. The ministers act to the whims and fancies of the coalition partners and populist schemes.

    Add more UR coaches to all the trains that will cater to all the UR and waitlisted travellers and they do not intrude into reserved coaches. The unused reserved coaches for the partial journey can be sold by the TTE. For ex, I recently travelled by the SBC - NCJ train and at Tirunelveli, I saw at least 40% alighted. The empty seats in the reserved coaches from Tirunelveli to Nagercoil can be sold at a discounted price to the public,

    Ensure all coaches have bio toilets, and for a day journey in sleeper class can be considered as a seated coach and entry and occupancy only after reservations. This will ensure maximum occupancy and more money for the railway.

    Have dynamic pricing and discount the day journeys and lean seasons.

    Yes, eventually phase out the Sleepers and convert them into Garib raths.
    Decentralise the railway and give the authority to the local zones and let them compete at each other to woo passengers.

    Many more suggestions can be there.. Keep writing.

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