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On the wrong track

For a healthier balance sheet, the Railways has fished out a controversial proposal that was tucked away somewhere in Lalu Prasad’s 2007-08 budget.

india Updated: Sep 26, 2007, 22:10 IST
Hindustan Times

The Indian Railways wants to make money, more money. Nothing wrong with that. But for a healthier balance sheet, the Railways has fished out a controversial proposal that was tucked away somewhere in Railway Minister Lalu Prasad’s 2007-08 budget.

According to the plan, an extra berth will be added between the two side berths in regular and air-conditioned sleeper coaches. To accommodate the extra berth, the side upper berth, which has a tapered lowered roof, will be raised. This way, the Railways will add eight more berths in each coach. Officials say that by adding eight more berths per coach, 12 per cent more seats will be available to passengers. This, they say, is the only way of expanding the capacity of trains and providing relief to passengers within the existing infrastructure.

To repeat ourselves, there’s nothing awry about trying to earn more revenue, especially at a time when low-cost airlines are breathing down your tracks. But to do so at the cost of travellers is bad policy and it will only push them towards better and more comfortable modes of travel. It is true that the Railways has a captive market thanks to a burgeoning population. But going ahead with a project without seeking either the public’s/users’ views or that of its safety department is sure to raise many uncomfortable questions. It is also unclear how much additional revenue the behemoth plans to generate from the move. Technically, it is the gross weight of the coach and not the tare weight — the weight of a vehicle without cargo, passengers — that matters. So an increase in the number of berths will not compound existing problems. But passenger comfort will suffer. Three seated passengers would restrict movement in the corridor; two windows next to the side berth will mean no cushioned backrest for one passenger, unlike others who are paying the same fare. With the bulge in the number of passengers there will be more luggage, making already cramped compartments even more uncomfortable. The less said about train lavatories the better. As it is, with 72 people per coach, four toilets are inadequate.

For the Railway Minister, 72 and 84 are probably only numbers. But for millions of travellers this move makes bad sense as no one not even Mr Yadav’s favourite aam admi likes being downgraded to cattle-class when the fares are not similarly reduced.

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