The public transporter is finally fixing a problem of its own making.
4 lakh new berths. By October 2019. Without adding new trains. That is what a recent PTI report quotes as claimed by unidentified Indian Railways officials. Several news outlets have carried similar reports later.
“Another power car can be removed and replaced with an extra passenger coach without increasing the train length. Once all LHB coaches are on this system, we have calculated an increase of more than four lakh berths everyday through this and thus additional revenue as well,” said an official.Unnamed official quoted in the report
Unless PTI and others got the numbers wrong, the anonymous ‘senior officials’ are significantly overstating what they are about to achieve. The best-case scenario seems to be 1/10th of their claims. In practice, seats or berths added should be far lesser. Perhaps PTI should have asked officials how they arrived at that number.
Few realise that IR created the twin issues of diesel consumption and capacity themselves. Both cropped up when they began to switch old ICF design rakes with the new LHB rakes for all trains. Unlike most ICF rakes, where coaches used to generate their own power, most LHB rakes require EOG coaches at each end to supply power for lights, fan, ACs, etc.
What IR is now flaunting as a new feature is actually just the fixing of a bug they knowingly created over the past few years.
Things as they stand today
As of now, Indian Railways runs between 900 and 1,200 long-distance, non-suburban, non-‘passenger’ trains every day. Train rakes consisting of LHB coaches are required if IR officials plan to achieve their target. However, less than half of the current trains use LHB design coaches today.
Each LHB rake has two End-On Generating (EOG) coaches. As mentioned earlier, these coaches have diesel gen-sets and supply power for everything from lights and fans to the air conditioning in the rest of the train. The power demand from passenger coaches is called ‘Hotel Load’. Most legacy design coaches, now popularly known as ICF coaches, had the ability to generate their own power. Only fully air-conditioned ICF trains had EOG coaches.
Several trains also run on an improved hotel load supply method. More on this new setup later in the article.
The numbers (assuming best case):
At the time of writing this, around 9,700 out of the approximately 13,600 LHB coaches are operating as part of some train on the network. 24% of the fleet is either under maintenance or idle for one of several reasons. However, let us assume that 10,300 coaches (76% of 13,600) are on the run as part of a service. We are rounding up figures in most cases for simplicity.
While many LHB rakes are a standard 22 coaches in length, we need to factor in shorter rakes and so assume an average of 18 coaches per train. Dividing the number of coaches available by the number of coaches per train, we get 572 active rakes.
For 572 rakes, there should be 1,144 EOG coaches deployed. As explained above, every rake has 2 EOG coaches to supply power.
The HOG method
IR plans to switch to a different method of powering trains. This method is called HOG, short for Head-On Generation. With HOG, power for the Hotel Load is supplied by the locomotive. This should, in theory, eliminate the requirement for EOG coaches. However, both pros and cons exist.
- Is more efficient since the train can utilize power supplied by the overhead wire in electrified territory.
- No noisy, polluting EOG coach required. Diesel fuel is saved, maintenance cost for EOG coaches is saved and the energy wasted on towing two heavy coaches everywhere is also saved.
- This allows for replacement with revenue-earning coaches.
- No backup power for the train in case the locomotive or the overhead wire fails. Therefore, one EOG coach will always be required for every rake as backup until another solution is found.
- Cannot operate in un-electrified territory since diesel locomotives have not yet been equipped with Hotel Load power output facility.
- So far, only locomotives of WAP-7 and WAP-5 classes can be fitted with HOG capability.
In December 2018, 51 pairs of trains were operating on HOG powering, according to IR data. More trains have since switched over. As of now, approximately 300 locomotives are equipped to supply HOG power to compatible trains. That is not enough to handle the number of LHB rakes currently operating, even if we assume that all locomotives are online, and none are under maintenance or out of service.
IR officials will have to conjure up another 272 suitably equipped locomotives in three months to switch all remaining trains to HOG.
The numbers (after conversion):
After conversion, one of the two EOG coaches will be removed and the other retained for backup in case of locomotive or power supply failure. 572 passenger coaches will be added to these trains instead.
EOG coaches are placed at the ends of the train. Thus, they also have the mandatory guard’s compartment. The replacement coaches will also require separate compartments for guards, electrical connections for the HOG locomotive, and luggage.
In cases where the train has a mix of AC and Non-AC coaches, the replacement coach will, in all likelihood, be a coach with unreserved seating + guard + luggage compartment. Seating capacity of such coaches is 36, according to RDSO data. These are called LHB SLR coaches.
However, even if we assume that 75% of the total capacity of a typical LHB general coach is available, we get 75 seats. Therefore, 572 coaches can offer 42,900 seats daily. That is around 1/10th of the claims made by the unnamed officials in the report.
Many fully AC trains like Rajdhanis, Shatabdis, Humsafars, many Durontos, etc do not have Non-AC coaches. If we assume that all 572 coaches are switched to three-tier AC coaches for 75% of their capacity, that provides us with 72 berths in a full coach x 75% capacity x 572 coaches = 30,888 berths daily.
That is between 8 and 11% of the claimed number in the PTI report. If one berth can be sold twice a day, that still adds only 16-22% of 4,00,000 berths-a-day claimed.
However, no coach design to enable such utilisation seems to be currently under production.
|Total LHB Coaches on IR so far (Approx)||13,600|
|Coaches actually available on active service (excluding spares, under maintenance, etc)||10,300|
|Assumed average train length in coaches||18|
|Total LHB rakes active (coaches / number of coaches per rake)||572|
|EOG coaches on active LHB rakes @ 2 per rake||1,144|
|With conversion to HOG, number of EOG coaches to be replaced with passenger coaches||572|
|Number of unreserved seats added in case of SLR type coach being used for conversion (assuming 75 instead of 36 in current design coach)||42,917|
|Number of 3AC berths added in case a hypothetical new design with 3AC coaches is used||30,888|
|Indian Railways claim of daily berth additions (according to the PTI report)||400,000|
To be fair, an increase of between 42,900 and 30,888 seats/berths daily is not a trivial matter, especially when this increase at little cost and without plying new trains. Many key routes struggle with long waiting lists for every service. Every new berth will mean more revenue and relief for passengers.
We’ve used best-case scenarios and optimistic numbers at every step. We ignored operational complexities like coach configurations, minor classes like chair cars, etc., that won’t make a significant difference to outcomes.
We have also ignored the fact that several LHB trains ply on partly or fully un-electrified territory, thus making use of HOG impossible for part or entirety of the trip. We are also ignoring that not all EOG coaches or rakes are suitably modified for HOG yet.
We also assume that IR is talking about physical berths/seats and not a theoretical number of tickets that can be sold for the additional coach per day. If they are indeed talking about the latter, perhaps they can explain how the numbers fit. Without the hype.
Featured image: Raj Bhavsar