Making a case for increasing passenger fares and not adding to the number of trains, railway board chairman Ashwani Lohani says reforms in structure and process are closely linked to rail safety, his foremost priority. “Since independence, rail traffic has gone up 16 times, while total track has increased only by 30 per cent,” says Lohani. “There is a huge capacity constraint. Take the Mughalsarai-Allahabad corridor. It is running at 180 per cent of its capacity. There is no time for maintenance as trains are running all the time. I don’t mind if punctuality suffers in the short term, but safety of passengers is most important. Blocks are needed for maintenance and I won’t compromise on it.
On top of that, fares have not been increased since 2004. They are ridiculously low, except maybe the AC fares and for the Rajdhani and Shatabdi trains. They are one-third or even fourth of the corresponding bus fares in many cases.
If rail fares are increased by five per cent every year, the railways will be financially healthy, with about Rs 40,000 crore additional revenue every year. This will ensure renewal of infrastructure and upgraded amenities for passengers. It’s because of political reasons that there is no increase in fares and trains are announced recklessly. This must stop as there is not enough time for maintenance of tracks.”