Western Railways, caught on the wrong foot after replying to a Right To Information query that there was only 40 per cent occupancy on the Mumbai-Ahmedabad route between July and September this year, has issued a clarification claiming there is actually 100 per cent occupancy on the sector even in the off season.
In the RTI reply to activist Anil Galgali, WR's chief commercial manager Manjit Singh had given detailed figures of the seats going vacant on this sector resulting in losses of almost Rs30 crore between July and September 2017. This had promptly been picked up by the media as throwing doubt on the viability of the upcoming Bullet Train between the two cities. (See: Bullet Train? Trains on Mumbai-Ahmedabad route go half-empty).
The railways' chief public relations officer Ravinder Bhakar on Wednesday said the RTI reply referred only to the number of passengers travelling between Mumbai Central and Ahmedabad, and not between other stations on the route.
"The information does not include information about en route traffic, passengers from originating station to en route stations, intermediate stations to intermediate and to destination stations between Mumbai Central and Ahmedabad, thereby showing lesser occupancy," Bhakar said in a statement.
He added that there are nine direct trains and 25 other trains going via Ahmedabad and the total earnings on this sector during that period was Rs233 crore, contrary to the figure of nearly Rs30 crore loss in the RTI replies.
Despite the July-September period being a lean season, he said the occupancy on this sector remained over 100 per cent on all the 34 trains.
On the nine direct trains, there were 803,150 berths of which actual bookings were 830,978, or 103 per cent occupancy on the Mumbai-Ahmedabad route and in the return direction, the position remained the same, Bhakar said.
Besides, in the 25 trains going via Ahmedabad, the berth availability was 1,070,710 and actual bookings were 1,230,585, or 115 per cent and in return direction, it was even higher at 121 per cent.
Asked to comment, RTI activist Galgali has called the reply ''very strange''. The specific RTI query between Ahmedabad-Mumbai implied all stations en route, and the number of passengers and revenue records and appropriate information should have been provided, he said.
Moreover, he said in the data given under RTI, details of all classes were provided but now that is not available.
"Now, the WR is saying the total number of seats on this sector on 34 trains is much higher (than in the RTI reply). Why the huge discrepancy in the figures given by the WR Chief Commercial Manager and the WR spokesperson?" Galgali asked.
A further question not addressed – though Galgali didn't mention it – is that the proposed Bullet Train will have very few en-route stops; it is aimed at faster travel between Mumbai and Ahmedabad. So the 'en route' figures don't really apply to it.
The sector in question serves important stations and industrial towns such as Vadodara, Bharuch, Surat, Vapi, and Valsad.