Railway passenger traffic catches the coronavirus flu, declines 28%

Since February, there has been 20 per cent increase in cancellations and bookings.
Coronavirus (COVID-19) may well turn out to be a spoiler for Indian Railways in the current financial year. So far, the number of reserved passengers and the earnings from it has dropped 28 per cent and 24 per cent, respectively, compared to March 2019.

The national transporter has cancelled 155 pairs of trains this week as a step to curb the spread of COVID-19. In the past seven days, the drop in passenger numbers reached as high as 55 per cent and earnings by 47 per cent, respectively, shows the data from Indian Railways.

This will hit annual earnings for 2019-20 that had otherwise shown a growth over the previous year. From April 1, 2019, to March 19, 2020, the reserved passenger numbers had increased by 3 per cent over the past year to 596.39 million, while earnings were 5 per cent higher at ~35,623.1 crore.

Interestingly, the cumulative passenger earnings for the current financial year (till March 10), including passenger reservation system (PRS) and non-PRS, was at around ~50,161 crore, compared to ~51,057 crore in 2018-19 (FY19). It was expected that the Railways would surpass last year’s earnings.

The impact on rail travel started showing earlier this month with March 1-10 passenger earnings at ~1,360 crore, down 6 per cent, compared to ~1,442 crore during the same period in FY19.  

This would mean that though the Railways may surpass the previous year’s target in 20 days, it is unlikely to achieve the revised target of ~56,000 crore set for 2019-20. For 2020-21, the target has been set at ~61,000 crore.

Voluntary cancellation by travellers, too, increased in February and March. “Since the past two weeks, we have seen a rise in the number of train ticket cancellations due to the outbreak of COVID-19. In the past two days, we have seen cancellations going up from 37 per cent to 45 per cent and it is continuously increasing,” said Dinesh Kotha, co-founder, Confirmtkt, Bengaluru-based online train ticket discovery and booking engine.

Trains to major cities like Delhi, Kolkata, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, and Chennai are the most hit.  Routes that have been impacted are Patna-New Delhi, Mumbai-Nagpur, Mumbai-Pune, Tirupati-Secunderabad, Ahmedabad-Mumbai, Bengaluru-Chennai, Chandigarh-New Delhi, and New Delhi-Varanasi. Due to the outbreak, new bookings have also gone down by more than 20 per cent.

“Since February, there has been 20 per cent increase in cancellations and bookings,” added Kotha.

The data shared by online data analysis and booking platform RailYatri also shows a rise of 39 per cent in cancellations so far in March, compared to last year.

"In February, there were a total of 103,842 bookings, from which 42,732 got cancelled — this is a cancellation rate of 41 per cent. At the same time, during the same month last year, there were a total of 110,732 bookings and 33,084 got cancelled. This gives a cancellation rate of 30 per cent," said a RailYatri report. 

Apart from cancelling of 155 pairs of trains, for which 100 per cent refund will be given, the Railway Board is discouraging people from travelling by suspending concessional bookings for certain categories, except patients, students, and differently-abled categories for unreserved and reserved segment.

Other than regular awareness and announcement campaigns, divisions were directed to raise the price of platform ticket from ~10 to ~50, wherever necessary, to stop overcrowding at railway stations.

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