For quite some time speculations had been flying around fast and thick that Indian Railways’ class of Duronto Expresses would be discontinued. This is why when Central Railway announced that Duronto Expresses owned by the zone would have commercial stoppages with effect from January 01 2016 railfans (including me) went into a tizzy, feeling sad and singing obituaries to the Duronto (Durontobituaries?) but admitting that it would do good for the Railways at a whole. However, our fears were unfounded. The Ministry of Railways, Government of India’s official Twitter handle kindly clarified:
— Ministry of Railways (@RailMinIndia) September 2, 2015
Yes, the Duronto class is not getting the axe overall, it is only some of them (well, almost half of them) that will have their technical halts converted to commercial stoppages), decision pending. Many heaved a sigh of relief, because just like some Durontos which were earlier “downgraded” to other class of trains this was just an exercise at making more trains more financially viable and not killing the entire class, especially in the light of the Bibek Debroy committee report which had mentioned that Durontos were loss making. However, as of now it is not clear which Durontos will get stops where and when, there has been no official announcement, all we have is media speculations. All Duronto reservations for dates post December 21 2015 have been suspended.
The 12223 Ernakulam – Mumbai LTT Duronto, despite being such a brilliant train, makes almost 11 lakhs loss on one trip! Even the perennially full 12263 Pune – Nizamuddin Duronto makes Rs. 33,000 loss per trip, while the Mumbai Rajdhani makes around 3 lakhs profit! This must be the rationale behind this decision of allowing commercial stoppages enroute for some of these trains, and a prudent one at that. But if they do this, how are the Railways going to maintain the Duronto class and brand? Or do they even care about such things?
The Duronto Express Class
Duronto Expresses were first introduced in 2009 during Mamata Banerjee’s tenure as Indian Railway minister. They were (still are) the fastest trains in India, faster than the Rajdhani. The concept of the Duronto Express envisaged:
- Super fast, end-to-end non-stop, fully reserved elite trains connecting major cities
- No restrictions on accommodation configuration – They could be fully AC, have non-AC sleepers or could run only during the day time with fully seating accommodation also.
- Halts in between would be only for technical purposes such as crew change.
- Same fare structure and track precedence at par with that of Rajdhanis and Shatabdis.
- They were basically AC or non-AC Rajdhanis/Shatabdis without stops, connecting any city and not just Delhi.
Now the railways have decided to do away with the non-stop moniker of some non-patronized Durontos. Simply put, they have converted those technical halts to commercial halts. The reasoning is that since anyway the trains have to stop at tech halts, why not allow passengers to board/alight and ersan some much needed more revenue to the railways in the form of intermediate passengers? This latest step is to make more trains commercially viable, which is a good step, and there is no doubt or argument that non-remunerative trains profitable. However, it is a big relief that the Duronto class has not been completely axed! Many of these other Durontos can be actually made profitable by tweaking their time tables and changing terminal stations.
What Will these Halts for Durontos Mean?
It is no secret that many Durontos do not run to capacity, and some even run empty, all the time (these two). However he belief that all Durontos run empty is wrong and even politically motivated. There are quite a few Durontos that run absolutely packed, waitlisted year round! Anyway, the Railways are swearing that this move of allowing halts to these trains will not affect the time table or running times or speeds of the trains in any way. While this is reassuring, if the past is any indication, now politicians will jump and demand stops for these Duronto at every other platform with a yellow board as per their fancy. The railways should at no cost fall for this populist trap again. It should come to a stage where there won’t be any difference between the Howrah – CSTM Mail and the Howrah – LTT Duronto except for the name, Durontos ending up as just glorified AC expresses and expresses.
- Under no circumstances (except in really remunerative scenarios) should any Duronto be allocated any more stoppages other than tech halts.
- All Durontos should still be given the same levels of priority and clearance on the tracks as they get now.
- All onboard facilities and features of the Durontos should continue, including the livery.
- The biggest loss making Durontos should be converted to other train classes.
However, the doubt remains that once some Durontos are allocated stoppages, will they still be Durontos? Still calling them so would be diluting the brand.
In my opinion only a handful of Durontos on major Inter-Metro trunk routes should be maintained (and some more added like LTT-MAS, LTT-SBC, SBC-HYD, MAS-HWH, HYD-MAS) as an ultra-elite class of trains running the newly proposed EMU trainsets and the others should be done away with, converted into Super (AC) Expresses like the erstwhile 22207/8 Chennai – Trivandrum Duronto.
Because I do share the fears of my fellow railfans that these “converted Durontos” will soon bite the dust, with many more stoppages added to its timetable and running time increased by a couple of hours in a few years thanks to politicians and “rail activists” who want all trains to stop at all of their doorsteps because of “importance” of their place or whatever. The problem here will be since technical halts are directly converted into commercial halts, those halts might not bring in revenue since tech halts don’t necessarily are at bigger stations. CR Durontos all stopping at Igatpuri but not at Nasik is an example.
As a railfan I feel happy and sad that this had to happen even while I grudgingly admit that is a good move. Most Durontos are kickass crack trains averaging above 70 kph and some above 80 kph average speed, with the fastest, the 12260 Sealdah Duronto hitting 86 kph average and taking an hour less than the Rajdhani. Traveling in Durontos is a pleasure since the coaches are mostly LHB, clean and comfortable, there is no disturbance from passengers boarding/alighting at intermediate stations, especially the unauthorized kind, and the preference they get is mindblowing. All other trains will be pulled aside for them to pass, there is no crawling/detaining at random stations and so on. But people still wouldn’t take them!
Indian Railways’ Attempts at Non-Stop Services: Some Lessons
This is only the latest attempt at non-stop end-to-end travel that has bit the dust. The first was of course, the Rajdhani, which when first introduced in 1969 ran non-stop between Delhi and Howrah. It was allotted stoppages only a decade later or so. Then came the Sampark Kranti experiment which fell flat on its face, and now the Duronto. This debacle also should teach Indian Railways something: More and more people can afford to fly today, and demand for its ultra-long distance trains will gradually come down (unless speeds increase drastically). Indian Railways should now focus on running regional trains and fast overnight and daytime InterCity expresses between major cities and towns, because that is where the money and the future is.
The Duronto is not dead yet (hopefully)!
Tentative Commercial Stoppages for Duronto Expresses
NOTE: All advance reservations for ALL Duronto Express services starting from January 01 2016 are suspended pending this decision about stoppages. The details given here are subject to change once the Railways finalizes the new stoppage patterns for all Durontos.