The railways' strategy of introducing a slew of Mumbai-Goa special trains including a double-decker to cash in on the Ganpati festival rush has turned out to be a 'financial disaster'. The premium market-controlled fare trains recording an occupancy of less than 20 per cent, while the normal special trains with fixed fares saw a good head count of anything between 80 to100 per cent on certain days.
This service was the biggest deployment of Ganpati special trains ever, with the railways running 214 specials, a rise of 22 per cent from Ganpati season last year. Of these, 130 were reserved special, 46 were premium trains, of which 20 were double-deckers, and 38 were unreserved trains.
'Financial suicide for cash-strapped rlys'
"The usual train services made about Rs 9 lakh, but the premium double-decker and the Shatabdi premium didn't make even Rs 4 lakh in some trips. It has been a financial disaster," said a senior railway official.
In fact, Konkan Railways has put out a press statement that if the trains' occupancy levels don't improve, the services will have to be withdrawn. "Running empty air-conditioned trains, that too on diesel, is financial suicide for the cash-strapped railways," said an official.
Double-decker fares worst
According to data provided by the Konkan Railways, between August 22, when these services started, and September 1, the Shatabdi premium had an occupancy of just 24 per cent. The double-decker premium's performance was worse with an occupancy of 19 per cent. The AC reserved special also fared badly with an occupancy of 25 per cent.
"Of the 8,640 double-decker tickets available between this period, just 1,640 were sold. Of the 4,835 seats available on the Shatabdi premium, just 1,124 were sold. The double-decker has 960 seats and Shatabdi premium has 571 seats. The railways really got it wrong with their economics this time," said an official.
Why was it a flop among Ganpati travelers?
Several dna reports had indicated that the decision to run premium trains might have not been the brightest. "The profile of the normal Ganpati traveler is more middle-class. He travels with his family. So paying for 5 to 6 AC premium seats might cost him his total travel budget. He will opt for the sleeper class at Rs 400 than a premium seat for Rs 1,000-odd," said an official.
Another drawback railway officials pointed out was that the premium train stops only at the major stations. "Several travelers might be wanting to get off at smaller stations which they can't do in premium trains. And we all know that access to connecting road transport from the bigger stations to the smaller villages in the Konkan during Ganpati is tough and costly. You don't expect passengers to pay for the premium seat and then pay a bomb to get to their village from the bigger stations," said an official.