The railways, thanks to its policy of running premium trains with market-controlled prices, is finally waking up to the amount of money a passenger is willing to shell out for a confirmed ticket.
And the rates are almost reaching the levels one pays for airline tickets. The Kurla LTT-Gorakhpur premium train that left on its trip on Sunday saw its 3AC tickets — the highest class in the train — selling at a whopping Rs5,867. The Tatkal fare for a normal train to Gorakhpur is Rs2,230. The premium train's sleeper class sold for Rs2,030, more than double the normal sleeper rate of Rs980.
The 3AC tickets for the Kurla-Varanasi premium train lined up for May 9 had already broken the Rs5,000 barrier and was selling at Rs5,522. Sleeper class tickets had reached Rs1,885. With a little over 200 3AC tickets available as on Friday, railway officials said the prices would go up much higher as the departure date drew close.
On Monday, the flight ticket for Mumbai-Varanasi on a major travel portal was Rs9,500. "In the days to come when premium trains become more widespread and the demand for them grows further, the difference between air fare and train tickets would be almost negligible," a senior railway official said.
Incidentally, while the 3AC ticket on the LTT-Varanasi premium train for May 16 was selling for Rs4,847 against the normal tatkal fare of Rs2,115, the air fare on a major travel portal for the Mumbai-Varanasi sector for the same day was Rs6,348. Officials believe the prices would touch Rs6,000 by the departure date.
For the moment, the railways is laughing its way to the bank. Between April 11 and May 2, the five trips of the Kurla LTT-Varanasi premium train has got CR a tidy Rs130.8 lakh, each train earning Rs26.16 lakh on average. The two LTT-Gorakhpur trips on April 13 and April 27 earned Rs58.63 lakh, that is Rs29.3 lakh on average.
"A normal train between LTT-Varanasi or Gorakhpur would have got us Rs11 lakh at best," the official said.
What has however left the railway officials red-faced is that all this money was previously going to touts. "Passengers paid through the nose earlier too. But that was going into the pockets of touts. Now the story is different," the official said.
In the months to come, railway officials are planning a slew of such trains on some of the country's most congested sectors and are confident that the prices would go higher still.