Indian Railways saw an increase of 3.91% in the total number of reserved bookings in the financial year ended March 2017, according to data from the ministry of railways.
A total of 52.35 cr (523 mln) passengers were booked in the reserved category during the year, reflecting the continued demand for long-distance rail travel.
In comparison, the total number of unreserved tickets — typically used for shorter journeys — sold in the year rose by just 0.64% to 769.59 cr.
Taken together, the total number of tickets booked on the railways during the year rose 0.84% on year to 821.94 cr.
The numbers reveal that new-age bus services have not been able to dent the demand for long-distance railway tickets.
Bus services in India have become more sophisticated in recent years with the advent of luxury vehicles made by the likes of Volvo, Mercedes Benz and others.
Many routes, such as Mumbai-Rajasthan, Mumbai-Bangalore and Bangalore-Chennai also see services from sleeper buses, which provide a flat bed with a length of 5.5-6.0 ft (see pic).
Smoother roads and the advent of Internet-based bus booking apps have also helped roads emerge as a strong competitor to the the railways.
However, the numbers also indicate that the Railways are far from being able to meet the demand for rail tickets, despite putting in more and more trains every year.
Indian Railways, which runs like the government undertaking it is, claims to be making huge losses on its passenger operations. When someone books a ticket, they also see the message: ‘Are you aware that 43% of your fare is borne by the common citizens of the country?’
To reduce the congestion, increase efficiency, cut losses and improve the quality of the coaches, the government of India is learnt to be planning to allow private companies to own and operate trains on tracks owned by Indian Railways.
However, the move is likely to be introduced in phases to avoid irking the labor unions. Indian Railways currently employs 1.32 mln people — about one-third the number of people employed by the Indian IT and BPO industry in total.
This represents about 6% of the total organized employment in India.