Saturday, June 28, 2014

Saga of a double decker train

India is not a stranger to double-decker air-conditioned luxury trains. These are running in Southern, Western, Northern and Eastern sectors, apparently, with no commercial problems. The irony for people of Bhopal, however, is that they struggled to get such a luxury train to run between their town and the commercial capital of the state, Indore, but are now staring at the prospect of losing it altogether.

A few years ago the local newspapers went mad about the train and used to frequently report the progress in manufacture at Kapurthala of its various components. After an inordinate delay the rake left Kapurthala and arrived at Bhopal. But it could not be put into operation immediately basically for the reason that the local railways had not done their home work properly.

Firstly, the route had not been surveyed so that the modifications required at several wayside stations to enable the train to run through them without any obstruction came to be noticed only when the Railways were ready for a trial run. Even the Indore station had to be modified. Secondly, the Railways found to their discomfiture that there was no maintenance staff for this supposedly special train. During the preceding year or two they had overlooked the need for the recruitment. The entire rake therefore sat idle for more than six months in the local Nishatpura Yard - a terrible waste of a productive resource.

A few weeks after the train with eleven double-decker air-conditioned cars started running it was realised that there were not enough passengers on it. The cars were running largely empty to make the train commercially unviable. One really does not know the kind of traffic surveys the Railways had carried out as despite the lapse of a few months the traffic did not pick up. The Railway Administration, therefore, started mulling its shift to some other route where it would be better utilised. Under the pressure of local people, however, the Administration continued to run the train but with reduced number of coaches.

 It transferred seven coaches to Mumbai for running them on the Konkan Railway route up to Madgaon in Goa.The remaining four coaches kept plying between Bhopal and Indore but were, again, found to be running mostly empty. The reasons now attributed for the lack of traffic are competition from road transport, availability of several trains between the two stations, unsuitable and inconvenient schedule and higher fares. All these ought to have come under reckoning before approving the introduction of the train. The Railways have now decided to withdraw the train altogether from this route and run it on a more needy and, perhaps, more profitable route of Mumbai-Madgaon.

The whole saga of this double decker train exudes a stink of utter incompetence on the part of the Railways. They apparently cannot even properly and thoroughly examine a proposal for running a new supposedly special train on a given route. In the process they have wasted precious financial, material and human resources involving enormous amount of opportunity cost.

The latest about the train is that Sumitra Mahajan, an MP from Indore and the recently elected Speaker in the Lok Sabha is reported to have been persuaded to request the railways to reconsider the matter of withdrawal of the train from the Bhopal-Indore route or to consider plying it between Indore and Surat, a route that was never in the reckoning.

Politicians, for their narrow interests of votes and goodwill, always interfere where they have no business to do so. Mahajan should leave it to the Railways to decide using the train as best as they think regardless of their goof-up in running it from Bhopal for Indore – a route that is already saturated with a number of trains, ordinary and luxury buses and taxis of all kinds.

 As is now becoming increasingly evident, politicians have actually been the problem with the Railways. They have, in fact, been so with almost every aspect of the administration. That, however, is another story and can be left to be told some other time.


 Photo: from the Internet

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