Air, not rail, to be India’s top choice for travel in next three years: Railway blueprint

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Most upper-class passengers of the Indian Railways are likely to opt for air travel in next three years, according to a railway blueprint.

According to the blueprint, while speed has traditionally been the advantage with air travel, recent decline in prices is boosting the business for the sector.

The blueprint warns that these two factors must be addressed on urgent basis.

Nearly 25 percent of the domestic air travel in India takes place inter-city, within 500 kilometres, contrary to popular beliefs that air travel is chosen only for distances greater than 800 kilometres, the report said. The same inter-city travel of less than 500 kilometres has always been seen as a monopoly for the Indian Railways.

Besides drop in air prices, the government’s Regional Connectivity Scheme (RCS) such as UDAN (Ude Desh ka Aam Naagrik) — that provides air travel of less than an hour for Rs 2,500 — is also expected to help the civil aviation sector.

The blueprint, a part of the internal assessment report, has been commissioned by the Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu. The draft was prepared by the Railway Board with an objective of mapping course correction and comprehensive revamp of the system.

Domestic airlines carried around 97.8 million between December 2015 and November 2016, the report said. In comparison, the First AC, AC-II, III and First Class of the railways carry 145 million passengers every year on an average.

Railways scramble

Fearing a major dent in its revenue, the Indian Railways recently called on citizens and bodies to help with innovative ideas for boosting revenue. The aim is to reach its non-fare revenue target of Rs 14,000 crore in 2017-18.

The ideas will be taken to the market for competitive bidding. Then, the railways will award contracts for a period of five years.

The initiative is based on the ‘Swiss Challenge method’, which enables open competition to prospective bidders along with the proposer of the idea. The proposer, however, has the ‘right of first refusal’ if not the highest bidder.

Earlier this year, the Railways had requested ideas and suggestions from citizens to improve its services like computerization, electrification of lines, finance, foot over bridges, infrastructure and crime prevention before the Union Budget, which also included the Railway Budget.

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