The next time, better not treat the PNR status generated by 139 centralised railways enquiry service as gospel.
This was the lesson a group of IIT-M researchers learnt the hard way when they were offloaded from the Delhi-Chennai Duronto Express on June 18 because the automated text message on their mobile phone showing confirmed seats did not tally with the final reservation charts that declared the tickets as wait-listed.
The group of seven, including researchers and students, were returning from Delhi after attending a workshop at the IIT-Mandi on text-to-speech synthesis technology for the visually challenged.
“We had booked two sets of tickets almost two months in advance. Though they were initially wait-listed, we got the automated SMS from 139 a few hours before departure in which some tickets were confirmed and the rest were RAC,” said Anusha, who is a research associate on a text-to-speech synthesis project under way at IIT-M.
But, when the IIT-ians checked the chart at the Hazrat Nizamuddin station , they were shocked to find their tickets reverted to the wait-list. Imagining it to be a clerical error as they had a digitally generated proof of confirmed seats, the students boarded one of the coaches hoping to explain the situation to a Travelling Ticket Examiner.
Much to their chagrin, the TTE refused to accept the SMS confirmation and declared them as ticketless travellers. “The TTE even said the Railways was in no way obligated to the IRCTC as it was a private entity and that there was no option but for everyone to get down at the next halt,” said Anusha.
Though the Duronto does not have any scheduled stop between Delhi and Chennai, it has technical halts at a few stations.
As the group included four women, they were advised by their professor Hema Murthy not to wait till the train reached Jhansi and instead alight somewhere before it got too dark.
The group got off the train at Farah near Mathura and took a bus back to reach Delhi at 11 p.m. physically and emotionally drained. With the help of their professor, the students took a flight to Chennai with the air tickets costing about Rs. 70,000.
When contacted, an IRTC official conceded that the episode was “very, very rare.” The surmise at present points either to a technical glitch in 139 or an eleventh hour pull-out of a coach on the train that led to the downgrading of the reserved seats to wait-listed status - a change which was not communicated to passengers.
The IRCTC is investigating why the automated text on PNR status was at variance with the final reservation charts. “We have sought a response from the Railways,” an official said.
Though the IRCTC has electronically refunded the reservation amount, the IIT-ians believe that a mere fare refund does not compensate for the harrowing experience they underwent.
“We are exploring means of claiming compensation from the Railways,” Ms. Anusha said.