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Passenger bookings on railways still 18% below pre-Covid levels, ET Infra

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It has been more than two years since the last wave of Covid-19, but passenger bookings on Indian railways have not yet reached pre-pandemic levels. The first six months of the ongoing financial year, March to September, saw 3,430 million passenger bookings, lower by 744 million or about 18% than the 4,174 million bookings for the corresponding period in 2019-20, the financial year that preceded the pandemic.

The decline is across both major categories of passenger traffic – suburban and non-suburban. Suburban bookings for March- Sep 2023-24 are shorter by 387 million (16.5%) as compared to 2019-20 while the corresponding drop is 357 million (19.5%) for non-suburban passengers.

Passenger booking data from the railway’s monthly evaluation report shows that between 2012-13 and 2019-20, bookings were always higher than 4,100 million. This number understandably saw a sharp decline in 2020-21, when many kinds of travel restrictions and lockdowns were imposed because of the pandemic. In 2020-21 there were only 70 million bookings in the March-September period. The same period in 2021-22 saw bookings increase to 1,177 million, which further increased to 3,061 million in 2022-23, both much lower than the pre-pandemic bookings.

Suburban services are meant for shorter distances (typically less than 150 km) from the city to its suburbs and extended suburbs. Railways operate these in seven zones across four major metros – Mumbai (Central and Western), Kolkata (Eastern, South Eastern and Metro), Chennai (Southern) and Secunderabad (South Central).

The decline in suburban passenger bookings could possibly be accounted for to some extent by a shift to metro services recently commissioned. For instance, the zone-wise analysis of suburban transport shows that the sharpest declines in percentage terms has been in the south central zone (60.7%), which serves Hyderabad. However, the Kolkata metro, the only one under Railways, has also seen a reduction of nearly 13% compared to the pre-pandemic levels.

In the non-suburban category, northern zone has seen the highest absolute decline as bookings in the current financial year are lower than in 2019-20 by 77 million. One reason could be that the traffic in and around Delhi has not been formally declared as suburban traffic and some of the decline in bookings in the northern zone might be caused traffic between Delhi and its satellites shifting to the metro.

But all zones saw bookings decline compared to 2019-20. In south central and western zones, they fell by over 30 million and in north eastern, south east central, southern and central by more than 20 million. The sharpest percentage fall of over 41% was in the south east central zone.

  • Published On Jan 4, 2024 at 01:58 PM IST

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