More and more Indians prefer to take the air route today instead of train. Reports have said that in May 2017, domestic air travel saw more than 17 per cent rise compared to the corresponding year in 2016. The country also saw a growth of 23.3 per cent in domestic air travel demand worldwide last year, with its figures twice than that of China, said the International Air Transport Association (IATA). It said India's domestic market topped the growth list for the second consecutive year.
Indian carriers flew 100 million passengers in the domestic circuit in 2016 and the government's initiating measures to boost air travel has made things better for the aviation sector at home.
This growth of the domestic aviation sector has another story to offer and that is the railways' falling behind in the competition. In a country like India where trains are not just a mode of transportation but even something people romanticise about, it is a sad scene developing. But why are the railways losing the race?
We have only planned farewell and not welfare for Indian Railways
The main reason is of course the hair and rabbit race between the public and the private sectors in which the rabbit doesn't fall sleep before reaching the finishing line. Indian railways have struggled over the years because it has been misused for political gains and now when the authorities are really thinking of giving it a boost, it has not just been late but also there are too many issues the railways have to deal with today. Given the ailing behemoth the country's railways is, it is no child's play to overhaul it easily.
The railways have lagged behind because it has been used as a means of populism to woo the vote-bank by our leaders. Instead of looking after its welfare, they have only prepared for its farewell and today, the repercussions are clearly being seen.
With passengers' count in trains going down, thanks to the fast emergence of comfortable and safe air and road travelling, and the efforts to make up for the loss of revenues by hiking cargo freights which has other negative impact, railways have only faced more adversity and it has become all the more difficult to bring it out of the spot it is in.
The authorities are raising passenger fares as the last resort to undo years of subsidising the sector but with air fares having dropped alarmingly, even a token hike in train fares will do it more harm than good. The only solution is to reduce time consumption while travelling by trains.
Today's busy professionals find time-consuming train travel a losing venture
This brings us to the second reason why train travel in India is losing the battle against air travel. India has a massive young population and for it, train journeys do not really prove to be useful. In a vast country like India where travelling by train to cover a long route can take multiple days, it is simply not friendly for the busy working force. For the retired, however, it's still a leisurely joy.
India should have acquired bullet trains or its equivalent by now so that the operators of its growth engine could find availing the railways viable. But we have made our railways such a sick industry by encouraging the culture of subsidising that giving a shape to the mission of having lightening quick trains will take a lot of effort and sacrifice. Till then, the airways could take an unassailable lead.
There are also issues concerning amenities, catering, safety, infrastructure, etc. for the railways to overcome. Until the railways are made more competitive through smart propaganda and actual work and it increases speed manifold to save time, the competition will be a no show down the roads.
Railways still have a special place in our hearts for we remember our first train journey more than the maiden air journey. But only nostalgia can't win it the challenge it is facing today.