Finally, plans for a semi-air conditioned (AC) train for Mumbai seem to be moving ahead slowly but steadily. The Railway Board in Delhi recently asked the Western Railway to consider running a semi-AC local train. Sources said that plans for a 15-car semi-AC local are more or less finalised, although it might not have a first-class compartment.
As per the current plans, the 15-car train will comprise 9 general, non-AC coaches and 6 AC ones. According to railway officials, the nine cars will only have second class compartments, including the ladies coaches, those for the physically challenged and a luggage coach. The 6-car AC coaches will be attached to these, making up a 15-car semi-AC local.
“The whole idea is that passengers who travel in First Class will migrate to the AC coaches,” said a railway official on condition of anonymity.
A five-member committee has also been formed to study the various aspects of a semi-AC local train, and it will soon submit a report to the Railway Board. The board will consider the feasibility of running a combination of 6 AC and 6 non-AC car train.
The issue of fares for the AC section is another issue under consideration. One of the ideas floating around is to charge commuters fares that are between current first class and AC local fares. A railway official explained it thus: “Consider that first class fare is Rs 50 and that for an AC local is Rs 80, then we are proposing fares for the semi-AC to be in between, as this could attract people.”
“But then this call on fares will be taken by the Railway ministry,” said another railway official. Once ready, the semi-AC local will have a seating capacity of 1,096, as against a non-AC train, which can seat around 1,156. WR authorities are already thinking of running AC local trains on the slow corridor once the Andheri-Virar slow lines are ready to handle 15-car trains. There are chances that they may test the semi-AC train on this section during off-peak hours, to gauge the demand.
The Railway budget for 2021-22 included a new header, ‘Partial Air Conditioning of 78 EMU rakes for running in Mumbai at a cost of Rs 507 crore’. Currently, of the seven AC locals in their fleet, only one is operational, while the others are cooling off in the carsheds. The WR authorities are sceptical about operating them despite the fact that there is a spike in demand for these.
The sale of daily tickets and season passes for AC locals had considerably surpassed demand in the pre-Covid-19 days. Since February 1 this year, when the local trains were re-opened for all, there were 2.80 lakh passengers travelling in 12 services of the lone AC local on WR till March 18, with 12,273 monthly season tickets (MSTs) and 9,851 daily tickets being sold. This averaged to 214 journey tickets and 267 MSTs sold since February 1. In December last year, the WR had sold a mere 25-30 MSTs per day.