Thursday, November 02, 2006

Slow train

Just back from a 24 hours journey from Bombay to Bangalore. For a distance of just about 1200 kms, the train takes a royal 24 hours. Thats an average speed of about 50 kmph. That btw, is Indian railways speed for express trains. There are a few trains faster than that, notably the Rajdhanis and the Shatabdis, but the bulk of the trains run in a different era. We dont even need diesel locos for this speed, steam locos can do a pretty job for 50 kmph. Imagine super long routes like Trivandrum - Guwahati (this train apparently runs a day late at times) and the painfully slow journey and then you know that the writing is on the wall for the railways.

Not surprisingly bus operators make hay while the sun shines on the short routes or the overnight routes. With the arrival of Volvos and the GQ (in whatever shape or form), bus operators are giving trains a run for their money. Bombay Hyderabad bus journeys take 12 hours or less while the train takes 15 or more. The Bombay Bangalore bus journey takes about 4 hours less on an average. I have heard that the distance has been covered in 16-18 hours more than once.

If the railways have any doubts that they can take on low cost airlines on the one hand and improved bus services on the other, they have to speed up. Distances upto 1200 kms have to be covered in one night - that opens up space for high speed inter city trains that can cover a longish journey in the equivalent of one night. One night journeys are the train journeys of the future - get in, sleep and get off at your destination. The railways have to capture this segment. They will survive like this for a long time given our population, but if they have to thrive, then this is the segment to tap.


Paddy said...

I think there is also a space for express bus service despite having the existing volvo services.

The bombay pune volvo service from bombay will take a cool 4.5 to 5 hrs before it reaches will stop at all corners to pick up passengers

The bus service that i used to travel from mahabaleshwar to bombay stopped almost at a show of hand and took in all sorts of people - benefits obviously not passed on the owners - and one of them spilled kerosene in the luggage area - thanks to urs truly disaster was averted (again no checks on what u carry and how u carry).

Raj travels supposedly doesn't mess up as much as other services (though i have never travelled).

All in all the bus services are not so exciting(if a volvo breaks down...u had it !!) but since the railways themselves have such a low base it seems the bus services are better.

rishi said...

There a few problems with low cost flights. The airport tax has been raised to Rs 875 per ticket. Added to the cost of the ticket it makes it higher than the 3rd AC fare. Initially the airport tax was Rs 200. then it was raised to Rs 500. Then to Rs 875. It will continue to be raised until airport fares are higher than 3rd AC fares, which is the scenario at the moment. So Air will not be an economic way to travel.

As for road, for long distances, it is troblesome to sit in a bus for 20+ hours and it has not caught on in a big way. However it will be useful for people who have not got reservations in trains.

Satyashankar said...

I came across you blog accidentally. It is a refreshing change from other blogs. I used have the same feeling about trains as you do, I think that no train journey in India should take more than 15-20 hours. And it is quite possible. We should model our transportation based on Japan and Europe and not the US where air and road transport are dominant. Trains are more efficient that both.

Anonymous said...

The big downside of nighttime road travel is safety. GQ should help somewhat in this, as it should bring down the number of head on collisions. Then we would have some real serious competition for railways.
The biggest issue facing the railways seems to poor signalling and communication systems. Till a train passes the next station, the next train cannot be sent on the same track from the previous station, as there is no way of knowing if the track is clear. Of late I have started seeing two way radios appearing in the hands of railway staff. If that can be made use of, I think railways should be able to increase the avarage speeds.

ggop said...

Great post and insightful comments. While reading about train speeds, I came across a blurb on the TGV from Paris to Lyons(I think) Apparently, they don't go to the max speed since passengers tend to be uneasy at the thought of travelling that fast.

Like the blog's idea!

Atanu said...

You may wish to check out my post of July 2005 which I call "An Integrated Rail Transportation system for India."

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