Indian Railway wants you to party at platform, will you?

Indian Railway wants you to party at platform, will you?


Time to time, be it 2017 or 2018, I have read in news about our Indian Railways coming up with the idea to open up empty railway platforms for public to use them for celebrations be it birthday parties, get together, weddings or any other event. Is this idea interesting, weird, quirky and will it really help the Indian Railways to earn some revenue? To be honest, I am not very impressed with this Idea. Read on to know what people think. 

This post is a collaborative effort of my friends from various domains. Special mention to Mr Hitesh Singh for co-authoring the post.

Hitesh Singh | Construction | Mumbai

Story so far, as per recent news, Vadodara division of Indian Railways has recently decided to lend its empty platforms to people who are interested in organizing parties or social gatherings such as birthday parties, marriage parties, exhibitions, reception parties etc. at railway stations. 
Is this idea awesome, good, bad or ugly? My answer to this is very similar to what Rhett Butler said in Gone with the Wind, “Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn". But sometimes some things happen and we can't help but end up discussing on things, here is what I think. 

Motive of the Indian Railways to do all this is to earn more revenues. But do they actually need more revenues and how badly? I did some quick googling of audited profit and loss accounts of Indian Railways and other stuff available online and this is where we stand:
  • Operational loss of Rs 33,000 Cr (FY17) of Indian Railways 
  • Railways spent nearly Rs 77,000 Cr on passenger operations but earned only Rs 44,000 Cr from passenger fares.
  • Total revenue in 2016-17 was Rs 1.65 lakh crore, short of revenue targets by Rs 24,000 Cr 
  • Average cost of freight service is Rs 0.99/10 km whereas fare is Rs 1.60 and because of this high fare freight is moving to road 
  • Passenger traffic is cross subsidised by around 50 percent of cost service.
  • Increased freight cost leads to high logistic cost which is perhaps highest in India at around 13% of the cost of the goods as against 4-5 % developed countries is only around 4-5% 
In short, railways finances are in a big mess and safety, hygiene, timeliness, facilities are in a sorry state and therefore the need of raising additional revenues is kind of justified. 

Now about the giving stations on rent, what exactly is decided? Vadodara division of Indian Railways will lend its empty platforms to public for organizing events. The stations that fall under the division are Makarpura, Vishvamitri, Bajva and Ankleshwar railway stations. I had also heard something similar being planned by Western Railway in 2016 at Surat station.

As per present decision, only railway platforms where trains do not pass or halt up to three hours will be offered. But, what can go wrong? Some trivia before that:
Vadodara is in Gujarat which is a dry state and is relatively peaceful, therefore post party, post drinking nuisances are expected less but can’t be ruled out completely. Problem to the passengers; but they are empty platforms with no trains up to three hours. 
To wrap up, I don’t see any major problem with this idea, except execution. Indian Railways is pathetically in execution. It is one of the top ten non-military employers in the world which is saddled with bureaucracy, corruption and inefficiencies. Also, we are aware about the passenger side of things. 

I will give a quick check on lesser known side of railways project execution. What happens to the mega railway projects announced every year but completion is rarely discussed. As compared to other government departments in India: 
  • Railway sector projects have maximum % cost overruns and Out of 353 projects 213 are showing cost overruns 
  • Increase in project cost: increase by 133.14% and additional cost of ₹1.62 Lakh Cr 
  • Cross government departments, top 5 projects having maximum time overruns belong to railways 
  • Railway projects have a maximum of 261 months delay while other sector projects delay by 141 months or less
  • Cross government departments, top 5 oldest ongoing projects without milestones belong to railways 
  • Cross government departments, top 3 oldest ongoing projects without revised cost estimates belong to railways 
Considering above, this idea of lending platforms isn’t going to make a massive upswing in the revenue. Also, as a host, organizing a function on platform doesn’t sound like a very attractive preposition. Plus, these platforms aren’t in the major cities where finding a good place is a challenge or extremely expensive. May be this offer can cater to people looking for cheaper venues and in that case, it defeats the purpose of generating more revenues. So, it’s just a pilot project, I assume. Even if extremely successful this initiative won’t be more than a drop in the ocean for the kind of financials gaps Indian Railways is facing. 

But sometimes, there are far bigger intangible impacts and benefits of an idea or initiative than the tangible ones. The kind of culture Indian Railways has, it is very important to break that mould and think something new. We need many more initiatives like these to bring the cultural change we want in the government setup. Some will be absurd, some will be extraordinary but according to me, we should encourage all this because many failed ideas give birth to one extraordinary idea. 

Megha Sharma | Public Relations | Delhi
The idea of parties at railway stations is quite absurd and impractical. Most railway stations across country are in poor shape and low on maintenance & hygiene. Not only does such a proposal put stress on an ailing railway workforce, it is also a recipe for disaster because these are working/active stations and any mishap can take place considering how we humans behave. It's advisable that the Govt explores in-station branding for revenue generation and utilizes empty spaces for training & skill development classes for railway employees and their families, which will earn goodwill for the railways amongst its employees. Full marks to idea for out-of-box thinking but it's not likely to take off owing to its impracticality and safety issues.

Mehul Gohil | Social Media | Mumbai
This truly is a bizarre thinking. They clearly need people who can chime in with more productive ideas. Public spaces or let's say empty ones, can be converted into a plethora of meaningful ones. Rent 'em out as spaces for co-working, organizing workshops or even better into something which keep railway employees healthy. Heck make an affordable hotel/hostel! Spaces are a part of the overall design & good design should always be adopted. The best bits about stations are their location & connectivity. Baroda will benefit more so once the bullet train's ready. This should be utilized to the maximum & not laid to waste by renting them out for parties. But again, when design sense lacks, such decisions make commercial sense. A station is like a honeycomb & is abuzz 24 x 7 x 365. If I were the decision maker I'd definitely convert the space into something meaningful which enriches lives, for the time & years to come.

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Comments

  1. Great that you put forward your voice on this social issue and trying bring people out of the misoconception of what great the government is doing.

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    Replies
    1. It is my opinion and my fellow collaborators of this post. I hope government comes up some better plans.

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  2. I don't think this idea would be great for parties. But yes we can utilise these areas for social work purposes.

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  3. As a matter of fact, railways do run at a loss with passenger traffic, their main source of revenue if freight. And I know this as I grew up in a family where my uncle works for the Indian Railways. So if they want to do it for revenue, I do not really care how they use their liabilities. But as Mr. Hitesh Singh aptly said , the execution needs to be done properly.

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  4. Those are some great points..I loved reading these views..I hope it reaches the right people in Government. Wonderful initiative by you.

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  5. Not parties but you can do so much more with empty spaces in Stations. Especially giving them out for night schools like I said in my tweet. Even for trainings like that of sports or some skills.

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