With short holiday breaks segueing into major festival seasons, Southern Railways is witnessing record crowds on virtually all major routes these days.

The rush that conventionally abates with the reopening of schools in June has simply refused to recede this year, and confirmed tickets are as hard to come by for travellers as spare rakes are for passenger transportation managers in the Railways.

“There has been a virtual blurring of peak and off-peak traffic seasons in the last three years,” said Priyamvada Viswanathan, Chief Commercial Manager, Passenger Marketing, Southern Railway.

The phenomenon of contiguous rush seasons has prompted reassessment of the “rolling stock” of coaches and locos in the Southern Railway's stable of 224 trains and figure out plans for blocks of three months across the year.

The most recent short holiday season was the weekend leading to August 15 (on a Monday) when tickets for train services for popular routes sold out well in advance.

Typically, the three-four day breaks usually impact on destinations such as Madurai, Tiruchi, Nagercoil, Bangalore, Coimbatore and the major destinations in Kerala, Ms. Viswanathan said.

Meanwhile, Railways has already planned ahead for the next triple whammy holiday season — Ramzan, Vinayaka Chathurthi and Onam — with a slew of special trains to southern destinations such as Nagercoil, Mangalore and Coimbatore between August 29 and September 9.

Going by passenger growth data, there has been an unusual spurt in gross passenger earnings for the April-July block of months.

While passenger earnings has been averaging about 8 per cent annually, the percentage variation over the previous year has been 13.2 per cent in June and 14.5 per cent in July.

The financials for Southern Railway too show an earnings growth of 11 per cent over the previous year. In the first four months of this fiscal, Southern Railway transported 255 million passengers, or 7.8 per cent more than previous year and registered passenger earnings of Rs.918 crore – a growth of 10.7 per cent over the previous year.

During 2010-11, Southern Railway operated 1,651 special trains to clear extra rush of passengers through the year. This fiscal year so far, 586 special trains have been pressed in to absorb the increased passenger traffic.

“However, in spite of our best planning effort, there will always be a mismatch between demand and supply. Besides, unlike bus transportation planning, the Railways cannot simply add more coaches to the 24-car norm to soak up extra crowds,” an official said.