Pathanamthitta: Kerala’s first semi-high-speed train, Vande Bharat Express, which will be flagged off by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on April 25 could significantly alter the mode of long-distance travel in Kerala. Bus and car riders who travel between the northern and southern parts of the state may find the new train a tempting proposition.
The Vande Bharat Express train targets air and car travellers along Thiruvananthapuram-Kochi- Kannur sector, besides the AC coach travellers in trains. For instance many who travel to the Cochin International Airport (CIAL) from Thiruvananthapuram and Malabar regions by train during day time may find the new service a good alternative.
Vande Bharat Express train can attract more travellers if it can reach Kochi from Thiruvananthapuram within 3 hours. With this, the travellers to the Airport would switch to Vande Bharat.
There is a high demand during day time for AC coach travel in long-distance trains passing through Kerala. The tickets to the AC coaches in the two Jan Shatabdi Express trains running in Kerala are always waitlisted. Even though many travellers take sleeper tickets and later convert to AC tickets, the authorities are apprehensive that the high ticket rates for Vande Bharat may dissuade many.
It is feared regular travellers are unlikely to switch to Vande Bharat. As it is a premium service, concessions or season tickets would not be permitted for this train. Generally, the ridership is poor for the Thiruvananthapuram-Kozhikode Jan Shatabdi Express from Kozhikode to Ernakulam in the afternoon. The number of passengers on this daily train would rise if the Vande Bharat leaves Kozhikode around 4 pm.
As of now there are no trains heading South from the Malabar region for a long time once the Jan Shatabdi departs. After 5.30 pm, there are no trains from Ernakulam towards Thiruvananthapuram for many hours. The train travellers associations point out that Vande Bharat could attract more rider if the time table takes into account these problems.
Two more stops likely for new train
The Southern Railway has handed over six sets of time-table for Vande Bharat, though the one that is in consideration is the service that starts from Thiruvananthapuram at 5 am to reach Kannur at noon and returns to the capital before 10 pm. The Railway Board is looking to further shorten the running time of the time-tables, which are currently in the seven-and-a-half hours bracket. However, some of the MPs from the state have approached the Railways demanding more stops for the train.
Stops could be allowed at Chengannur and Shoranur too apart from the initially planned ones at Kollam, Kottayam, Ernakulam Town, Thrissur, Tirur and Kozhikode.
Railway authorities are apprehensive about increasing the number of stops for Vande Bharat in Kerala as it would lead to a rise in travel time. When the Coimbatore-Chennai Vande Bharat train has only three stops, 6 stops have been recommended for Vande Bharat in Kerala initially. The demand for more stops has come up from various quarters. The Railways may allow one or two of these stops. In that case, the travel time for the train would increase by another 6 minutes.
For the Coimbatore-Chennai Vande Bharat train, the first stop after leaving Chennai is at Salem Junction, which comes after 345 kilometres. Vande Bharat takes only 5 hours and 50 minutes travel time on the 505 km Chennai-Coimbatore stretch at an average speed of 86.57 kilometres per hour. This average speed is achieved owing to the tracks on which the train can run at a 130 kmph speed and the minimal number of stops. The only stops are at Tiruppur (2 minutes), Erode (3 minutes) and Salem (2 minutes).
In Kerala, the planned stop time is 3 minutes which is inclusive of the time needed for opening and closing the automatic doors.