As the Narendra Modi government presents its maiden Rail Budget on July 8, all eyes will be on the new ideas Railway Minister Sadananda Gowda announces. Gowda, however, would do well to also look closer at an older scheme — the Duronto trains.
Launched with much fanfare by then railway minister Mamata Banerjee, the non-stop point-to-point trains seem to be on their way out, mainly owing to poor occupancy. Over the past few months, the Railways have converted at least five of them (see box) into Jan Shatabdi, Shatabdi or AC Express trains.
The change of nomenclature has allowed the Railways to introduce a few more halts on the routes of these trains — a move it feels will bring in passengers and make these trains financially more viable.
The Railways Ministry has also commenced a review of the occupancy levels of all Duronto trains and is in the process of identifying those with poor patronage so that these can be moved to AC Express categories. Currently, 28 pairs of Durontos are operational.
Sources said many zonal railways have also been consistently seeking that they be allowed to change many of the Durontos to regular AC Express or Shatabdi trains.
Painted predominantly green, the Durontos were essentially targeted at the long-distance traveller, providing faster travel by cutting down halts en route. With no commercial halts between the stations of origin and termination, the only stops the Durontos were allowed were “technical halts” — essentially to renew supplies.
“Our experience has shown that there is not enough point-to-point traffic on some of the routes these non-stop trains cater to. Ever since they were introduced, many of these trains have run with 30-40 per cent empty seats on days together. When we analysed the reasons, the primary factor that emerged was the lack of stoppages,” a senior Rail Bhavan official told The Indian Express.
The Chandigarh-Amritsar Duronto, for instance, did so poorly in the first few months of its launch that the Railways had to introduce halts at Ludhiana and Jalandhar.
“Nobody wants to run a loss-making train. Also, a train which a sizeable number of passengers are unable to use makes little sense for us as a service provider,” a Railway official said.
Ajmer-Nizamuddin:Converted to Jan Shatabdi Superfast Express
Chennai-Thiruvananthapuram: Converted to AC Superfast Express
Chennai-Coimbatore: Converted to Shatabdi Express
Howrah-Digha: Converted to Shatabdi Express
Chandigarh-Amritsar: Converted to Superfast Express