The railway budget announcement of getting a study done to get the Mumbai-Goa route to run semi-high speed trains at speeds between 160 and 200 kmph has sparked off a debate among city railway officials. Does Konkan Railway need a 200 kmph Mumbai-Goa train or does it require a massive capacity augmentation to run more trains?
On June 29, thousands of people in queue to book tickets to different parts of the Konkan for Ganpati festivities starting on August 28 were shocked to see tickets of Konkan Kanya Express — the most popular train during this time — sold out within a minute of counters opening at 8am. It was the first day of the 60-day advance booking period.
Even as allegations flew thick and fast that touts were cornering the tickets from different parts of the country to sell them to Mumbaikars at a premium, both Central Railway and Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation gave themselves a clean chit.
The June 29 incident is at the centre of the debate with some railway officials saying the railways would do better by kick-starting the doubling of the single-line Konkan route rather than going for semi-high speed trains on the route.
"Except the Mumbai-Goa train, it wouldn't make much sense to upgrade other trains on the route to 200 kmph. Plus, a single semi-high-speed train wouldn't mean that more trains can be squeezed into the circuit. KR runs 39 pairs of trains every day and, last year, ran 844 extra trains and even added 1,700-odd coaches. Despite that, the fact remains that getting tickets during Ganeshotsav, Diwali and Christmas on KR is becoming impossible," said an official opposed to the semi-high-speed plan.
However, another section of officials said in 2003, under the stewardship of then KR managing director B Rajaram, a trial to run a train on KR at 160kmph was successful. "The tracks are capable of 160 kmph. Upgrading it to 200 kmph would require a substantial amount of money but it would still be cheaper than what doubling would cost," said another official.
While earlier estimates of doubling the entire 740-km KR route would have cost Rs3,500 crore, officials said the current estimate was in the range of Rs10,000 crore.
In April, KR had announced that it had finished the first phase of the survey for track doubling and found that it was technically feasible on 300 km of the 741-km route. This included the 47-km distance between Roha — where KR starts — and Veer on the northern side, and the 60-km distance between between Udupi and Mangalore. The other distances are patches in between these two stretches.
Not getting into any debate, an official statement from KR said further action on the issue (of studying feasibility of 160-200kmph trains) would be taken once details from the railway board were received.