With its repository of reserve coaches virtually bare, Southern Railway is seeking the help of three other zonal railways to run summer specials to cater to the extraordinary passenger traffic through the holiday season.

With almost its entire fleet of coaches deployed in train formations of the existing and new services introduced over the past few years, the Railways’ summer plan is to limit its own specials, and instead, have the Western Railways (Mumbai), Eastern Railways (Kolkata) and North Eastern Railways (Gorakhpur) to operate the bulk of summer specials till June, officials said.

“We are expecting the three zonal railways to draw up an operational and maintenance schedule soon so that summer special trains can be rolled out in a couple of weeks,” S. Vijayakumaran, Additional General Manager, Southern Railway, said.

While during the summer holiday season (April-June) last year, Southern Railway operated 243 summer specials, this year it will run far fewer special trains — predominantly to Thiruvananthapuram, Nagercoil and Bangalore — with the other zonal railways expected to operate specials to heavily patronised destinations such as Chennai and Thiruvananthapuram. The modalities of apportioning primary and secondary maintenance of special trains are being worked out in consultation with other zones.

Sources say Southern Railway had been sourcing its spare coaches — about 150 coaches constituting 6 per cent of its current fleet of about 5,500-5,600 broad-gauge coaches — for running specials during summer or other holiday seasons. However, with introduction of more and more new trains outstripping the supply of new coaches, the zone has been struggling with a chronic shortage of spare cars.

In the last five years alone, Southern Railway has put on tracks at least 75 new trains with no matching increase in new coaches or significant scaling up of maintenance infrastructure. The annual allotment of coaches by the Railways Board averages only about 50-60 cars whereas the demand far exceeds supply.

Apart from the 5-6 per cent of the fleet on the sick line (for periodic overhaul or interim maintenance) at any given time, between 100 to 150 coaches attain service life of 25 years and need replacement every year. The railways has been partly cushioning the crisis by refurbishing about 100 ageing coaches---replete with new bogey, axle and other fitments---at its carriage works facility at Perambur in Chennai and Golden Rock Railway Workshop in Tiruchi.

“Cumulatively, the zonal railways is now faced with a deficit of about 500 coaches,” an official said.

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