The Indian Railways cancelled almost 9,000 train services this year, out of which over 1,900 were due to coal movement in the last three months, according to an RTI response. In a reply to a query under the Right To Information (RTI) Act filed by Chandra Shekhar Gaur, the Railways has said that it cancelled 6,995 train services for maintenance work or for construction purposes, while 1,934 services were cancelled from March to May due to coal movement.
Officials said due to severe shortage of power, the Railways has been forced to prioritise the movement of coal rakes over passenger services. They also said that the national transporter is on its way to deliver 58 super critical and 68 critical projects worth more than Rs 1,15,000 crore in the next few years, and hence, maintenance as well as construction work is also being carried out as a priority across its network.
However, this has critically affected the movement of passenger trains across the country, especially during the peak summer months. According to the RTI response, from January to May, the Railways cancelled 3,395 services of mail/express trains, while 3,600 passenger train services were cancelled during the same period due to maintenance reasons or for construction works.
In the peak month of May itself, 1,148 mail/express train services and 2,509 passenger services were cancelled due to maintenance or construction work. While in January and February, no train services were cancelled due to coal movement, 880 mail/express train services and 1,054 passenger train services were cancelled due to the prioritising of coal rakes in the last three months.
The Railways is also struggling to provide confirmed tickets to passengers due to a shortage in trains, a severe surge in demand for tickets over the last few years and lack of new trains. According to official figures, in 2021-22, more than 1.60 crore passengers who had bought tickets could not travel because they were being wait-listed, indicating a shortage of trains on busy routes.
Due to the prioritising of coal rakes, the Railways has in fact recorded its best-ever monthly freight loading of 131.6 million tonnes (MT) in May 2022. The loading of coal to power houses — both domestic and imported — has increased by more than 11 MT in May with 52.4 MT coal being moved to power houses as against 41.01 MT last year, registering a 28 per cent growth. Cumulatively, in the first two months of this year, Indian Railways loaded over 18 MT extra coal to power houses as compared to the same period last year with a growth of 24 per cent.
According to the figures, the passenger sector requirement in 2019-2020 was 8.4 billion and the average drop in the waiting list was 8.9 per cent. During the busy season, 13.3 per cent passengers were not able to get confirmed reservations. With the demand for more number of trains from passengers, the Railways has introduced around 800 new trains in the last six years since the Railway Budget was merged with the General Budget in 2016.