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Business News/ Economy / Vande Bharat trains its sights on a faster track
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Vande Bharat trains its sights on a faster track

By travelling on a Vande Bharat train, you save 14% of your time on average compared to the next best train. But it comes at a high premium: Vande Bharat fares are higher by an average 52% than the best alternative, a Mint analysis shows.

A Vande Bharat train in UPPremium
A Vande Bharat train in UP

India took a technological leap with indigenous semi-high-speed trains in February 2019. Known as Train 18 during production, the service was renamed Vande Bharat Express on launch.

With a deluge of new routes this year, India now has 25 pairs of Vande Bharat services, 18 of which have been launched in 2023. On most routes, the Vande Bharat has become the go-to option for its amenities and shorter travel time. But right since its inaugural run, the model has also faced its share of ordeals, most notoriously hitting cattle on the tracks.

Some routes have also faced low occupancy, for which the Centre recently allowed railway zones to cut fares by up to 25%. Vande Bharat fares are significantly higher than those of alternative trains. Mint explores.

Expanding network

In his 2021 Independence Day speech, Prime Minister Narendra Modi promised 75 Vande Bharat trains by 15 August 2023. Fifty services are running now, so expect more launches in the coming months. Thirty of these services (15 pairs) have been launched in the four months of 2023-24, making up for lost time during the pandemic-led hiatus. All routes are short-distance daytime ones, and a sleeper class version is in the works for longer distances.

 

Vande Bharat routes active currently
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Vande Bharat routes active currently

Missing the aim

Vande Bharat trains are designed to hit 180 km per hour at most. But given unsuitable track conditions, speeds are mostly capped at 130 kmph—that too only in select sections of each route. So average speeds fall way short despite minimal halts and the quick acceleration and deceleration these trains take pride in. Yet, in all routes, the Vande Bharat trains are the quickest option. The inaugural New Delhi-Varanasi route remains the fastest despite being the longest by distance, clocking an average 95 kmph.

Premium play

Vande Bharat trains save 65 minutes on average as compared to the next best train on each route, a Mint analysis showed. The average time saved is about 14% (range of 1-36%), but it comes at a high premium: Vande Bharat fares are higher by an average 52% than the best alternative. On one route (Gandhinagar-Mumbai), you may need to pay 112% more and save just 22% of the travel time. But some routes are giving domestic airlines a run for their money for being swift enough at less cost.

Full-house journey

Vande Bharat trains had 96.6% utilization in 2022-23 and 99.6% in April-June 2023, railway minister Ashwini Vaishnaw told the Parliament. In terms of occupancy rates, the Kasaragod to Thiruvananthapuram route is the best performing one, with an average of 183% occupancy, PTI reported. (Occupancy exceeds 100% when passengers travel only a part of the full journey—a seat can be occupied by multiple persons in a single run.) But some routes also have average occupancy as low as 50%. Note that occupancy rates vary by season.

Speed breakers

Despite Vande Bharat’s success, jammed wheels, fire, stone-pelting and most commonly animal hits have not gone unnoticed during its four-year journey. Between June and December 2022, as many as 68 instances of animal hits were reported, according to official data. That said, this sets the tone for more innovation in Indian Railways in the years to come.

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Published: 30 Jul 2023, 08:08 PM IST
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