The Southern Railway is not pushing for a service that will strengthen its revenues.
Saturday was a day of traffic jams and wasted fuel for thousands of people in Chennai. The good news at the end of the day was the availability of two new Duronto trains operating out of Central, to Madurai and Thiruvananthapuram. Since it involved a VIP flagging-off programme, Central got a sprucing up, and even the filth from train toilets was removed from the tracks. Miserable workers normally pick this waste from the tracks with brooms. Yesterday, they turned out wearing gloves and masks. Credulous visitors and passengers will, of course, believe this to be a transformation.
But what has happened to the air-conditioned double-decker train to Bangalore? No inauguration date is set for this service, although it has been assigned a number in the Southern Railway Time Table (No. 22625) and even timings of operation (departs 07.25 hrs and arrives 20.45 hrs).
A new train to Bangalore will hopefully ease the severe demand-supply gap for travel to that city. Currently, it is impossible to get tickets on the IRCTC website, even under the Tatkal quota. Everyday, many people who cannot get a train ticket are welcomed with open arms and a fat fare by private buses right outside Central. "Bangalore, Bangalore!" they holler, offering the assurance of a seat to these desperate travellers. On weekdays, the travel to Bangalore costs Rs. 300 by non-AC to nearly Rs. 1,000 by a multi-axle air-conditioned private bus, leaving EVR Road or Koyambedu.That is on week days. On weekends, there is a 20 per cent markup.
So high is travel demand that the Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation has full air-conditioned services - which are not inexpensive - running between the two cities, with a system of online bookings that generally seems to work well. And Redbus also performs better than IRCTC when it comes to online bookings.
Why is the double-decker train to Bangalore not yet in sight? The buzz at Southern Railway is that the coaches are not ready. The Rail Coach Factory in Kapurthala builds this type of coach. Is nobody urging it to put in an additional shift and get the rakes rolling quickly? Without such high-value services, our Railways don't make enough money, and the private buses find it easier to mop up the cash with hefty fares.