The Indian Railways is fighting on several fronts to tackle issues such as quality of service, freight loss and passenger amenities, among others, and the size of the institution makes it even harder to resolve all issues. However, Mohd Jamshed, member-traffic, Railway Board, told FE’s Saurabh Kumar in an interview that steps have been taken which have improved the functioning of the transporter. Excerpts:
How is the freight business of Indian Railways doing?
The freight business was impacted in April-October last year by the tepid growth in the core sectors serviced by the railways. We have initiated a number of steps to enhance freight traffic along with some capacity augmentation in the critical sections. These steps have fetched positive results, which are visible in the performance of the first quarter of 2017-18. We have achieved a loading of 281.23 mt during the period, which is 10.14 mt or 3.74% more than in the corresponding period of the last financial year. The freight earning for the first quarter has been Rs 27,284 crore, which is 7.46% more than in the corresponding period last year. Although there has been some setback in loading of coal due to the closure of the Dhanbad-Chandrapura railway lines on account of the Jharia fire, we are able to surpass the target for the quarter.
What is the impact of closure of the Dhanbad-Chandrapura railway line on coal loading?
With the closure of the Dhanbad-Chandrapura section, coal loading on BCCL has been adversely impacted with a loss of six-eight rakes per day. In addition, running of through freight and coaching services, which were routed through this section, has also been severely impacted. We have tried to minimise inconvenience to passengers and a number of coaching services are being run via alternate routes, even though it entails substantial operational difficulties. Through freight services are also being run via alternate routes. We have worked in close coordination with the coal ministry and Coal India to minimise loss of loading on account of the closure of this line.
What is the purpose of the coal coordination meeting? What decisions were taken in the last coal meeting?
We maintain a very close coordination with the coal ministry and Coal India almost on a daily basis. A meeting with CMDs of the coal companies and the COMs of the zonal railways was held by me and the coal secretary on June 30, 2017. The performance of loading by coal companies in Q1 was reviewed and the loading targets for Q2 were firmed up. A target of loading 240 rakes per day has been fixed for Q2, based on the coal availability with the companies and their loading capability, even though IR is in a position to supply more than 250 rakes per day to CIL.
How is the passenger segment of Indian Railways performing?
On the passenger side, we were able to reverse the declining trends with all the course correction measures taken from time to time during the last two years. We carried 2,087 million passengers in the first quarter of 2017-18, which is 2.34% more than in the corresponding period of 2016-17. The revenue from passenger business in the quarter also grew by 7.47% compared with the corresponding period of 2016-17.
Is it a fact that Indian Railways is losing passengers to airlines?
Well, we need to compare numbers to actually understand the impact of growth in the airline industry on the passenger business of the railways. In Q1 of 2017-18, in the reserved segment we carried 104 lakh more passengers compared with the corresponding period of last financial year. Even in AC classes, which are in direct competition with low-cost airlines, there has been a growth of 41 lakh passengers in Q1 of 2017-18, compared with the corresponding period of last financial year. The second thing worth comparing is load factor, which is the indicator of occupancy of the seats/berths. The average load factor of the airline industry in the domestic sector is around 89%, whereas average load factor of AC classes in IR is more than 100%, which further vindicates the sustained demand in the passenger business of IR.
The demand of AC class travelling particularly in 3AC has grown by 27% in Q1 of 2017-18, compared with the corresponding period of last financial year. During the first quarter of 2017-18, there was an increase of 18.36% in waitlisted passengers and 46.32% in RAC passengers in AC classes compared with the corresponding period of last year. This is in addition to 10.36% growth in the actual number of passengers who travelled in AC classes. This shows that the demand for AC travel on Indian Railways is registering a healthy growth in the current year.
What actions have you taken to reverse the declining trend in the passenger segment?
The passenger services have always been the prime area of focus for Indian Railways. It runs 12,500 trains to carry over 23 million passengers per day. Our focus has been on making tickets easily available, promoting digital transactions, offering more options and better quality of catering services, meeting demand through special train products, improving tourism services, providing additional facilities and amenities to the people, extensive use of social media to reach customers on real time basis and special facilities for under privileged sections of the society.
The services cannot be improved without regular feedback from customers. Indian Railways has moved from usual means of complaints, emails to real-time feedback on social media. On average, Twitter handles in the ministry receive more than 18,000 tweets and 400 Facebook posts per day. The public outreach programmes such as “Railyatri/Upbhokta Pakhwada” have helped us to better understand and appreciate the expectations of our esteemed customers.