December 28, 2007

Is Lalu magic for real ?

While everyone has been quite generous in heaping praise on Shri Lalu Prasad Yadav - the Hon'ble Minister for Railways, Govt of India - for the amazing turnaround that he has been credited for bringing about in the Indian Railways, I quietly tend to disagree.

The general public and the press have been almost tom-toming and singing praises of Bihar's favorite son. Here are a few things he has done to the railways that he should not have. Each reason seen individually might not seem to account for much. Add up the money saved/earned by these methods and u will know why IR has started making profits.

  • Increase in Tatkal Quota.
    This one is double edged. While enabling the last minute traveller to get confirmed reservations more easily, it also adds up to the money box. Each Sleeper Class/Second Class reserved passenger shells out Rs 150 extra while an AC traveller has to shell out Rs 300 extra. Only in the 'Non-peak' months of July-Sep this is halfed. That too only for a few 'unpopular' trains. Initially when Tatkal was introduced, it used to be 10% of the carrying capacity of each class. Today in most of the popular trains it is half the carrying capacity while in all others it is a quarter of it. Count the bucks.

  • Enhanced Reservation Fee.
    If you book a ticket from a station which is not the originating point of the train, you are charged Rs 10 or Rs 20 extra per ticket for Non AC / AC classes respectively. This means that if you book a Mumbai to Kolkata ticket at Delhi, you are charged extra. Infact, this also applies to return journeys. Booking a ticket from Hyderabad to Delhi at Hyderabad will not attract premium, but booking your return journey ticket together with it will do so. Add up the cash!

  • POH period enhanced.
    Each coach which carries passengers on IR undergoes what is termed as Periodic Overhaul (POH) every 12 months. You can find at the back of each coach the date markings of the date when POH was done, and the scheduled date of return for the next overhaul. Technically, this should be 12 months. But a lot of coaches are actually marked for 18 months. Some are marked 12, but it is commonplace to find coaches which have exceeded that. This means that instead of every 12 months, a coach undergoes overhaul every 15-18 months. If a workshop was servicing 50 coaches a month (example) a couple of years ago, it is still doing the same even though a number of new coaches have been added to stock. So instead of 60, it still does 50.

    In a POH, the broken parts are repaired, light bulbs/tubes replaced, torn seats replaced, suspension overhauled, batteries replaced, wiring repaired if needed, additional charging plug points provided and the coach is repainted. It costs the IR about 3-4 lac rupees for POH of each coach. Add up 4 lacs for each of the 10 coaches per week per workshop. There are atleast 2 such workshops in each of the 16 zones on IR. The Annual figure is staggering.

  • Increase in Freight charges.
    This is one area the passengers will not clammer about. The freight charges on IR are one of the highest in the world. The only reason the system runs is because the customers find it faster and cheaper by rail considering that most roads in the country are in shambles, lack of good high capacity trucks and the fact that interstate goods transport attracts so many taxes and long detensions by officials and police to extract moolah.

  • Coach Carrying capacity to be increased.
    For a couple travelling by train, the side berths have been the most convinient. Whether it is Sleeper Class or AC 3 tier, the side berths are the preferred berths, unless one can give Amitabh some competition in height. You gotta forget that soon. Thanks to Lalu's new innovation - The Side Middle Berth (SMB). As in the main bay, even the sides will have 3 berths soon. The Side Upper is going to be raised to a height which will leave only a couple of inches above your face while sleeping! The extra person is going to sit in the main bay. So in the main bay, instead of three on one side, there will be four. Whether you are in the main bay or the sides, you are cramped for space. This adds up 9 passengers per coach in Sleeper and 8 in AC 3 Tier. Add up the fares and u can dream of getting rich!

  • Dummy Superfast Trains.
    Approximately, about 450 Mail/express trains (excl Rajdhani/Shatabdi) run on the Indian Railway network. More than 250 of these are termed 'Superfast'. That means that they achieve an average speed of 55kmph in both up and down journeys. Now, out of these 250, atleast 150 of these have their average speeds in the range of 55.1 - 60kmph. In other words, if these trains get late by a few minutes, their average speeds go down below 55, which is below the SF mark specified by IR. Atleast 50 such trains exist which would loose their SF tag if they are late by even 5-10 mins. Considering the legendary non-punctuality of Indian trains, its more a norm that they run late. An example of a train which I frequently use. The 2747 Guntur-Vikarabad Palnadu express takes 385mins to cover 354kms at an average speed of 55.16kmph. If this train gets late by even 2 minutes, its average speed dips below 55kmph. I have never ever seen this train reach VKB without a delay of atleast 20mins.

    Now, why am I giving this description? Because for every superfast train ticket, a passenger pays Rs 8 for Second Class, Rs 20 for Sleeper Class, Rs 30 for Ac 2/3 tier and Rs 50 for AC 1st Class over above the basic fare structure. If one books a Tatkal ticket, that premium applies too. Go figure out how much IR gains by this method.

As of now, these points do come in mind. Will add more when I contrive upon more such methods adopted by IR/Lalu. Till then, you can keep adding up the figures and tell me if Lalu really deserves to be patted on his backs and felicitated by the 'top' management institutes of the country for bringing a turn around in the Indian Railways.



Pramod said...

Very informative post mate!!!

Yes, indeed Lalu has turned IR around into a profit making PSU only by such adjustments that have minimal or not evident impact to the traveller. Thats where teh smartness comes.

I hate the extra berth in the side concept.

On my trip to India which ended a coupla days ago, i had eth chance to go on the newly opened SBC MAQ express. We had a delay of 3 hrs due to a landslide. Pity it is a nite train that i dint get to see the beautiful route.

I also went on the MRTS at Chennai from Velachery to Thirumailai.

Fanstatic experiences!!!

Vrij said...

Wow RP.. the SBC-MAQ sector is on my wish list for sometime now.. And how was ur trip? Enjoyed?

Chakoli said...

Oooohhhh lalallalalallaa

Thats what where a dentist mind is everytime:-)))

Never knew such facts....
Thats really exciting.....

and we thot him to be real player....

Vrij said...

Chaks.. its not ooh lala.. its ooooh Laluuuu...

Yeah.. Lalu's doin to railways what termites do to wood!