The thought for this post triggered when I was at Pune, Bangalore and Delhi airports in quick succession and the mad rush there made me think, what can be the possible quick win solution for reducing this mad rush, and make flying a little less painful. And I found my answer in Delhi Chandigarh trip by Shatabadi express and the current positive changes in our railway system. There is a need to promote trains, specially the fast point to point trains like Shatabdi series of trains to replace the short flights in sectors like Delhi- Chandigarh, Delhi-Jaipur, Mumbai-Pune, Bangalore-Chennai, Bangalore-Mangalore etc. If the small flight traffic can be transitioned to trains, it would ease out the airports and we will loose less carbon credits. Here is a small analysis of train vs air travel on short routes.
Time – Rail Vs Air Travel
Let us take Delhi Chandigarh sector. The time taken by Shatabdi Express from New Delhi Railway Station to Chandigarh station is 3 hours and 20 minutes. The time taken by the flight is approximately 1 hour. Now add to this the pre-boarding time which is expected to be 90 minutes, top it up with the luggage waiting time on arrival which is usually on an average about 30 minutes till you walk out of the arrival lounge. If you land on larger airports like Delhi, your reaching the luggage belt can itself take 30 minutes or so. Net time on flight is thus 3-4 hours, if the flight takes off on time and there is no ATC congestion on destination airport. So eventually there is no time that a flight saves you.
Peripheral time spent on traveling within the city to reach a airport or a railway station depends on where you are located in the city, but more often than not railway stations are situated in the center of the city and airports on the outskirts, so on an average people would spend more time commuting to airports than to railway stations.
Statistical records would probably point that delays in Shatabdi trains are far less than delays in flights these days due to congestion at most airports.
Cost – Rail Vs Air Travel
A lowest cost one-way economy air ticket with all taxes and charges thrown in will cost you around Rs 2000/- and a full fare can cost you up to Rs 5000/-. A Shatabdi ticket is roughly Rs 500/- and is about Rs 650/- if you book it ‘Tatkal’, making it cost anywhere from 10-25% of the air ticket.. Not to forget that the morning cup of tea and snacks at railway station cost you much less at railway station than at the airport.
Since the average city distance to airport is greater, the cost of local transport would also be more. There are public transports available to every railway station in most of the cities, but there is hardly any public transport to airports, so you end up taking taxis and not only spend more but also add to the city pollution.
Convenience and Comfort – Rail Vs Air Travel
The seats in Shatabdi are much more comfortable than any aircraft; they are broader and have a lot of leg space. The food is comparable to the airlines that provide food, though the presentation of food is definitely better with airlines. But then only a couple of airlines these days offer you food, and on small flights they have just enough time to give you a quick snack rather than a full meal. At times even before you can eat they would come back to pick up the trays.
You do not have to shut down your laptops / CD players or any other gadgets in the train. There is one power plug every three seats in Shatabdi, airlines are yet to provide that. With about 3 hours at your disposal you can watch a complete Hindi movie without loosing your battery and without having to switching on / off your gadgets. You are not expected to tie a seat belt, straighten up your seat for the person at your back to be able to eat. You can walk around the train at leisure and not feel cramped. The aerial view is missing for sure but you can see the changing landscape of the country and read all the ads on the walls along the railway track.
You do not have to stand in multiple queues before you can see the aircraft, you do not have to get your luggage scanned, you do not have to open it up and be embarrassed about the contents or the way you pack, just get on board and be ready to move. You can get a coolie at reasonable rates to help you with the luggage at railways but you have to carry your own luggage all the time at the crowded airports. Remember the plight of passengers traveling with infants and small kids going through the whole check in process, multiple security checks and finally making the infant cope with taking off and landing hassles. It is much more convenient for patients, disabled people to travel by train than by air.
To top it all you are being less cruel to the environment by traveling by train.
I would strongly recommend a train journey to air travel anytime for short distances. Probably railways can do a focused campaign highlighting these benefits…