The AC local will no doubt be a success, but, some changes in the areas of fare, halts and train configuration can help increase the patronage on these trains.
Western Railway (WR) today (25 December) launched air-conditioned (AC) suburban trains in Mumbai, fulfilling a long standing demand of Mumbaikars. The new AC rakes are manufactured by the Integral Coach Factory (ICF) in Chennai and feature Bharat Heavy Electronics Limited’s (BHEL) three-phase propulsion system along with automated doors, another long-pending demand of commuters.
The demand for AC trains on the suburban network has been there for a while now, with trial runs commencing in 2016. WR will operate 12 fully-AC trains in both directions daily in lieu of existing trains, thereby maintaining 1,355 trains. The trains won’t run on weekends due to maintenance issues. The total passenger capacity of the train is slated to be 5,964 passengers of which 1,028 can be seated and 4,936 will be standees.
Eleven of the services will run as fast trains between Churchgate and Virar – stopping only at major stations, with three of them stopping only at Mumbai Central, Dadar, Bandra, Andheri and Borivali. The last train will run between Mahalakshmi and Borivali, stopping at all stations en route.
Fares on the route are priced at 1.3 times the equivalent fare of the prevailing first class tickets. However, for the first six months, they will operate at 1.2 times the first class fare. The current minimum fare is Rs 60 for the 5-km trip from Churchgate to Mumbai Central and the maximum is Rs 205 from Churchgate to Virar, spanning 60 km.
The AC local will no doubt be a success, especially in summer, especially given that the city’s bus operator the Brihanmumbai Electricity Supply and Transport (BEST) undertaking has stopped operating AC routes.
However, certain changes need to be made in order to increase the patronage on these trains:
The fares for the train at present are on the higher side. If WR really wants users to start using the services from the start, it needs to keep them on par with the Mumbai Metro. The current fare, starting from Rs 12 per km (Churchgate to Mumbai Central) and going down to Rs 3 per km (Churchgate to Virar) needs to be brought down during the initial period and then increased once patronage starts. The Metro currently charges Rs 40 for 11 km (Versova to Ghatkopar), far lower than what WR is charging. Fares should certainly be increased, but at a later stage.
Barring one service that operates as a slow train, most of them operate as fast trains, with three of them acting as superfast trains with only five intermediate halts. The AC local slowly needs to be brought into service for slow trains that halt at all stations.
The current configuration of operating completely AC and non-AC trains needs to change. WR should slowly start bringing in a train with mixed coaches. The existing 12-coach train has a mix of first class and second class coaches. While 15-coach trains were tried out, station platforms could not handle the load during peak hours. Thus, WR will have to reduce the number of second class coaches and add AC coaches to the regular train so that patronage will further increase. A good start would be to replace one coach with an AC coach and gauge the response to it.
While it is certainly too early to predict the patronage of the AC local trains, WR could definitely keep these in mind in order to get better patronage.