More Indians are flying post-pandemic but only some opting for traveling on trains

More Indians are flying post-pandemic but only some opting for traveling on trains

The pandemic that triggered long-drawn lockouts devastated the transport sector, especially passenger traffic. As Covid effects wear off, Indians are back to their travel routines. Though Indians are flying almost close to the pre-pandemic level, their railway travel still lags the pre-pandemic numbers.

Data for the current financial year till February shows that for these 11 months, passenger booking is down by more than 1,815 million as compared to the first 11 months of 2019-20.

Data compiled from the railway’s monthly evaluation report for the past five years by TOI — based on the statement of approximate gross earnings on originating basis — shows that the railways transported over 7,674 million passengers in 2019-20 and 7,725 million in 2018-19. Due to the lockdowns, only 985 million passengers were booked in 2020-21. The number jumped to over 3,063 million in 2021-22 and 5,858 million in 2022-23, but is still about 24% less than in 2019-20. These numbers include both suburban and non-suburban traffic.

On the other hand, the number of domestic flyers has gone up to almost the pre-pandemic level. Domestic airlines are estimated to have flown around 1,360 lakh passengers in the 12 months up to March 2023, which is a 60% increase on the 852 lakh passengers reported in FY2022, according to data shared by credit rating agency ICRA. With this, domestic passenger traffic is now only around 4% short of the pre-Covid mark of 1,415 lakh in FY2020.

Domestic aviation industry continues to witness recovery. Domestic passenger traffic for March 2023 was estimated to be 130 lakh, 8% higher than the domestic traffic of about 121 lakh reported in February this year, 22% more than the 106 lakh passengers recorded in the corresponding period last year, and 12% higher than preCovid level which was 116 lakh flyers in March 2019.

Recovery in railways passenger numbers is slower than in air passenger numbers probably due to inflation discouraging common Indians from spending on travel. More people traveling are a direct indicator of economic growth because travel boosts economic activity. These passenger numbers suggest that India is recovering fast from the pandemic disruption but those at the lower levels who travel by train are still not traveling as much as they did before the pandemic.

Yet, the railways is certainly on a fast pace of recovery. The railways has loaded 1512 million tonnes of freight during 2022-23. An official statement said this is the highest-ever loading reported by the national transporter during a fiscal. The railways had loaded 1418 million tonnes during FY 2021-22. During FY 2022-23, the railways achieved total revenue of Rs 2.44 lakh crores as compared to Rs 1.91 lakh crores during 2021-22 registering an increase of 27.75%.

The railways’ revenue earnings were up by 73 per cent in the passenger segment during April-January 2023 as compared to the same period last year, according to a statement issued by the national transporter. The total approximate earnings in the passenger segment for Indian Railways on originating basis during April to January 2023 is Rs 54,733 crore, registering an increase of 73 per cent in comparison to Rs 31,634 crore achieved during the same period last year, it said.

The railways has been spending big on creating and improving infrastructure, including launching a large number of new trains such as the Vande Bharat, redeveloping stations and electrifying tracks. The humongous growth in railways infrastructure is expected to show faster growth in the coming few years.


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