Indian Railways, the world's fourth-largest rail network, has seen a fall in passenger traffic, belying the notion that long queues at booking counters and trains packed with passengers indicate its cash registers are ringing. The fall is due to improvement in road connectivity and low-cost airlines, according to Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu.
"Over a period of time, we are seeing a drop in the traffic because roads have become more convenient for people for short distance. For the high-end travellers, air has become a better option because low-cost airlines have come in," Prabhu told news website VCCircle.
"So if we don't awaken to the challenge, we are going to lose as the candle will burn from both ends. Both kinds of passengers, low-end and high-end will go," he added.
The fall in passenger traffic forced the Indian Railways to scale down its earnings projection for 2015-16 by almost Rs. 5,000 crore to Rs. 45,376 crore from the budget estimate of Rs. 50,175 crore.
The estimates for the current fiscal represent 12 percent growth to Rs. 51,012 crore (from the revised estimates for the previous fiscal).
Prabhu said new trains are imperative to improve passenger traffic.
"...passenger traffic will not go up if you do not start new trains. It also depends on new products and that is why we are launching products such as Humsafar, Tejas, Antodhaya and Uday. These will be introduced in the next three to four months," he told the website.
During the first three months this year (January to March), Indian aviation companies flew 230.03 lakh (23 million) passengers, 24 percent more than 185.46 lakh (18.5 million) during the corresponding period last year, according to civil aviation regulator, Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA).
In April, Indian air carriers flew 79 lakh passengers, a growth of 21 percent from 65 lakh passengers in April last year, according to domestic passenger traffic data released by the DGCA on Friday.