Double Decker on trouble track

A paltry 17 % passenger occupancy on every run causing huge losses to the Indian Railways

By bappaditya paul
Indian Railways‘ showpiece Double-Decker train that hit the tracks on 1 October after lying idle at Howrah for over a year, is incurring huge losses with a paltry 17 per cent passenger occupancy on every run.

The fully air-conditioned Double-Decker train, which runs between Howrah and Dhanbad five days a week, was a pet project of the erstwhile railway minister, Trinamul Congress chief and state chief minister Miss Mamata Banerjee, whose party still holds the railway portfolio. It had cost the Indian Railways Rs 2.5 crore to get the Double-Decker rake manufactured at the Rail Coach Factory in Kapurthala.
According to railway sources, the train which runs from Howrah as the 12383 UP Howrah Dhanbad Express at 3.20 p.m. on Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday and as the 12384 DN Dhanbad Howrah Express from Dhanbad at 5 a.m. on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday; has been registering extremely low occupancy since day one of the run on 1 October. Comprising seven chair car coaches, the Double-Decker has a capacity of 128 seats per coach. “But it’s been over a month and a half since the train was introduced and the average rate of occupancy is stuck at around 17 per cent of the capacity. In terms of numbers, just 152 passengers are travelling in the train as against the 896 seats and this is resulting in huge losses,” said a senior railway official.This despite the Double-Decker’s fare being the same ~ Rs 315 ~ as for other super-fast express trains running between Howrah and Dhanbad. A section of railway officials is blaming it on the poorly chosen timings of the Double-Decker train, which makes it compete with the popular Shaktipunj Express that leaves Howarh at 2.30 p.m. and with the Coalfield Express that departs from Dhanbad at 5.55 a.m.

Others add that designating the Double-Decker on the Howrah-Dhanbad route was done “whimsically” and without any viability study.
Besides, in between Howarh and Dhanbad, the Double-Decker stops only at five stations ~ Burdwan, Durgapur, Asansol, Barakar and Kumardhubi ~ whereas the other express trains stop at 11 stations en route and thus draw more commuters.
Now, to counter the extremely low occupancy, the Eastern Railway, which owns the train, has thrown open the unoccupied seats in the Double-Decker train for booking through the Unreserved Ticketing System (UTS) from 10 November.
This means that anyone who wants to travel in the Double-Decker will be able to buy a reserved ticket from the UTS counters at Howrah and Dhanbad even minutes before the departure of the train.

(The author is on the staff of The Statesman/India. This report originally appeared in The Statesman on 20 November)


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