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Day 32 – Q 3.The Indian Railways is facing stiff competition from the domestic airlines and highways. What measures can be taken to make railways more competitive?

3. The Indian Railways is facing stiff competition from the domestic airlines and highways. What measures can be taken to make railways more competitive?

भारतीय रेलवे घरेलू एयरलाइंस और राजमार्गों से कड़ी प्रतिस्पर्धा का सामना कर रही है। रेलवे को अधिक प्रतिस्पर्धी बनाने के लिए क्या उपाय किए जा सकते हैं?।


Indian Railways has the fourth-largest rail network in the world after the United States, China and Russia. India’s railway network is recognised as one of the largest railway systems in the world under single management.


In the last few decades, Indian railways have seen a fall in passenger and freight traffic due to shifting preference to other transport modes such as roads and air. The Economic Survey noted how railway passenger business declined by an average of 0.26% every year in the five years ending 2017-18, while the number of domestic air passengers rose 10% annually.

Reasons for stiff competition from domestic airlines and highways: 

  • Convenience: Roads have become more convenient for people for short distance.
  • Fares: Upper-class fares face competition from low-cost airlines and AC bus fares.
  • UDAN: the regional air connectivity scheme has expanded airport capacity more than five times to handle a billion airline trips per year. This has attracted upper-class rail travellers.
  • Better Service: Airline services are faster, safer and more reliable with high customer-centric services. 
  • Better last mile connectivity: provided by road transports.
  • Railways’ freight rates: are already higher than other modes of transport for several commodities. 
  • Large Road network: India’s road traffic is being expanded to 2,00,000 km with a capacity to carry 80% of the country’s goods traffic. Trucks will clock much higher mobility, further facilitated by the GST regime.

Issues with Indian Railways:

  • Efficiency: Low efficiency of the Railways in terms of the human resources it employs, and their capacity.
  • Safety:  has been one of the biggest concerns in the Indian Railways system.
  • Delay: Due to technical, maintenance and climatic reasons.
  • Centralized decision making: Railway zones have very limited powers with regard to raising their own revenue.  Therefore, they are unable to contribute more effectively towards improving Railways’ revenue. 
  • Inadequate carrying capacity: Passenger trains utilise two-thirds of capacity and generate only one-third of revenues.
  • High freight tariff: leading to getting out-priced in market.
  • Low Service quality: as compare to Airlines and private bus services.
  • Limited Freight Basket: The freight basket is limited to certain bulk commodities, and heavy dependence on coal transport poses a risk to the business.
  • A vicious cycle for Railways: Poor finances of Railways had led to low investment in infrastructure.  Low investment means Railways’ infrastructure and services take a hit (resulting in low speed, delays, and safety issues).  Poor infrastructure and services result in loss of remunerative business for Railways which leads to further deterioration of finances.
  • Capacity Constraints: The rail network currently faces huge capacity constraints, and the high-density network (a network that connects metros) has already reached saturation.

Measures to be taken:

  • Use of LHB coaches for better safety and comfort.
  • 100% electrification of tracks to save fuel.
  • Start new trains on busy routes to tap the demand.
  • Rationalize railway traffic as per efficiency and economic feasibility.
  • Improve pre-board facilities such as hassle-free booking, clean station platforms, coaches and toilets, standardised packaged food, trains running on time, and so on. Beautify Railway station and provide world-class passenger amenities such as waiting for lounge and high-speed internet.
  • Provide for high-capacity, speedy, intercity passenger trains. Start more semi-high-speed train such as Humsafar, Tejas, Antodhaya and Uday.
  • More dedicated freight corridors required.
  • IR needs to perform as a corporate entity to carry the nation’s freight and passengers adequately, efficiently and economically.
  • Boost Non-Fare Revenues sources such as Rail Neer and Catering services. Can promote Train Branding which will include both external and internal advertising on trains.
  • Integrate its rail network with other modes of transport and develop a multi-modal transportation network.


Passenger and Freight transportation is the backbone of any economy. As we are moving for Bullet Train and Hyperloop, we should also make Indian railways more efficient and productive as it is far too important and strategic for the nation for better economic growth.

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