Overcrowded trains: Indian passengers hang from the doors of the coaches of an over crowded train to travel home for the Chhath Puja festival dedicated to the Sun God, at Parsa Bazar railway station in Patna, Bihar state, India, Monday, Nov. 16, 2015. People travel home from Bihar in large numbers for Chhath, one of the most significant festival for people in the region.
| Photo Credit: Aftab Alam Siddiqui

For some time now, the Indian Railways has been introducing AC coaches in trains by replacing either Sleeper or Second-Class coaches. In May, in four pairs of trains operating out of Mangaluru Central Railway Station, one Sleeper Coach each was replaced by an AC 3-tier Economy Class coach each. In September, in Bagmati Superfast Express, Rapti Sagar Superfast Express and Muzaffarpur Express, an AC 3-tier Economy Class coach was introduced in place of a general Second Class coach each.

These changes have serious implications as the probability of travellers reserving a ticket in Sleeper and Second Classes has come down, forcing them to either upgrade to AC coaches or make alternative travel plans. Those holding an unreserved ticket to travel in General Coaches also may find it tough to get seats. With a relatively smaller share of people able to afford the higher costs of AC coaches, and in scenarios where alternative arrangements are not possible, incidents of general ticket holders invading reserved compartments have become common.

A comparison of passengers carried in 2019-20 and a decade back in 2009-10, shows that the above examples are not exceptions but the norm.

Table 1 | The table shows the % share of passengers carried by various classes of service — AC, Sleeper and Second in 2019-20 and 2009-10. The table also shows the difference (in % points) in the share of passengers between these two time periods.

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For instance, in 2019-20, of all passengers carried by Indian Railways (including both reserved and unreserved), 7.8% were in the AC coaches, a sharp jump from 3.6% a decade back — an increase of 4.2 percentage points. The share of those who travelled in the Second Class reduced from 85.3% to 76.5% — a decrease of 8.7 percentage points.

The table also looks at the same data for only passengers who made a reservation. As the total row shows, the share of reserved passengers carried by AC coaches increased by 9.8% points while that of Sleeper Class decreased by 2.8% points and that of Second Class decreased by 6.6% points in the decade considered.

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A zone-wise comparison shows that the share of AC seats rose sharply in the Central, Northern and Western Railways, while the rise in Southern and Eastern Railways was not that steep. When both reserved and unreserved passengers are considered, in the Central, Northern and Western Railways, the share of AC seats increased by over 5% points, while Second Class’ share decreased by about 10% points or more.

Table 2 | The table shows the average rate (in paise) charged per passenger per kilometre across various classes of travel in Indian Railways in 2019-20. The table also shows the difference in average rate (in paise) when compared to 2009-10.

There is an 80 paise difference per passenger per kilometre between AC 3-tier coaches and reserved Sleeper Class in 2019-20. Moreover, the fare of AC 3-tier has increased by 33 paise per passenger per kilometre in the past decade, while that of reserved Sleeper Class increased only by 17.4 paise, validating the affordability concerns of travellers.

These changes were mandated due to the poor operating ratio of the Indian Railways — which worsened after the pandemic. Before the pandemic Indian Railways on average used to spend ₹98 to earn ₹100. In 2021-22, it spent ₹107 to earn every ₹100.

In the tables, AC class includes AC First tier, AC 2-tier, AC 3-tier and AC Chair Car. Sleeper and Second Classes include coaches in both Ordinary and Mail trains. Only non-suburban trains were considered for this analysis. And only seven Railway zones which have sufficient data were considered.

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Source: Annual Statistical Statements published by the Indian Railways (2009-10, 2019-20)

Also read: Soaring train fares, shrinking sleeper coaches add to passenger woes

Watch our Data video: Watch | Data Point: Why has the 3-tier AC coach been profitable for the Indian Railways?

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