Railways may hike fine for Ticketless Travel to Rs.1,000/-; Commando-style checks to make up Special Ops

Railways wants to slap Rs 1,000 as fine for travel without ticket. Commando-style tactics to nab ticketless travellers – Ambush teams, incognito checks and bus raids make up the Special Ops.

MUMBAI: Next time you are travelling in a train and it stops suddenly in the middle of nowhere and there is commotion, don’t panic fearing a train robbery. For, it may only be the railway checking personnel clambering onto the trains for a ‘mid-section ambush check’. Sounds incredible? Read on.

Ticketless Travel may burn a big hole in the pockets of train commuters if the Railway Board accepts a proposal by the Western Railway to effect a four-fold increase in fine from the existing Rs.250 to Rs.1,000. Officials feel the higher fine will act as a deterrent. The fine amount of Rs.250 is at present common for first-class and second-class commuters. For years it was Rs.50, but was revised to Rs.250 in 2002. A senior WR official said, “During Railway Board chairman Ashwani Lohani’s visit to Mumbai recently, we proposed an increase in the fine amount.” While the board will take the final call, in case it accepts WR’s proposal, the fine will apply to both the WR and CR network.

Resembling a commando or a guerilla operation, officials travel by road to a pre-designated mid-section of the route, “hide in the bushes” adjacent to the track, halt the train to conduct the checks lasting up to three hours. The team then moves to another location based on the frequency of the trains, explained senior officials of Indian Railways.

Wonder how the ‘ambush team’ halts a speeding train? It may sound incredible but officials place detonators on the tracks and blast them forcing the driver to stop on hearing the mild blast. Another tactic is ‘foot plating’, where a supervisor travels in the loco and at a pre-designated site, the train is stopped for checks.

Along with ambush checks, the commercial department has introduced ‘Incognito checks’, and hold your breath, ‘bus raids’ too! Here, the ticket checking staff board the trains disguised as passengers, mingle with them and suddenly start checking for tickets from a select station. The operation is spread to other trains dividing the staff into different teams.

The proposal to hike fine on Ticketless Travel had been sent earlier too, but the board has this time assured WR that it will be examined. A senior WR official said, “The fine amount should increase with inflation.”

Officials said many commuters avoid buying a ticket or season ticket with the calculation that even if they are caught, the fine amount would be lower than the sum they would have to shell out for the average monthly season ticket for most destinations.

Ticket checking on the suburban system is random. Because the network does not have an access control system like the Metro, many commuters prefer to take a chance by travelling ticketless, which results in huge revenue losses for the railways. Around 3,000 ticketless travellers are caught on CR and 1,300 on WR every day. The daily earnings from the fines imposed are Rs15 lakh for CR and Rs.5 lakh for WR; earnings from fares every day are Rs.7 crore on CR and Rs.5 crore on WR.

Commuters said the fine amount should increase, but there should be two categories: a lower sum for second-class commuters and a higher one for those travelling first-class. A commuter, Manish Vyas said, “Rs.1,000 is too steep a fine for second-class commuters as many may genuinely forget to renew their season ticket on time. The second-class fine should be Rs.500.”

A first-class commuter from Borivli, Shridhar H, said, “Rs.1,000 is the ideal amount as the present fine is so low that it is hardly a deterrent. The railways should outsource ticket-checking work to an agency after floating tenders.”

Fortress checks

In a ‘bus raid’, RTC or private buses are hired for the checking staff to move into a particular station where the train will be stopped, passengers will be checked and defaulters will be put in the same bus and taken to the nearest magistrate for prosecution.

In ‘Fortress checks’, entry and exit points of a station are blocked and passengers are checked for valid tickets while beggars and other trespassers are driven away from the platforms. Swap of staff from one section to another to catch ‘regular’ offenders by surprise are the other methods adopted, say railway officials.

As the usual checks in trains and at stations have not made much impact, the Commercial Department came up with these unusual methods. Also, never attempted on such a scale before in the Indian Railways to get “better results” following Railway Board seeking a more innovative approach to fight the menace.

Yielding results

Launched in August last year, the tactical operation seemed to have yielded results. In the last 11 months, the SCR reported ‘catching’ 28,534 passengers for ticketless travel, prosecuted 246, and detected 247 cases of vendors overcharging. The result? They netted about Rs. 1.47 crore in fines from operations carried out in all sections with emphasis on ‘vulnerable’ trains, say officials. It has also been upping the vigil on its staff like ticket examiners, house keeping, pantry staff, technical persons and others for their “alertness, cleanliness, water and power availability, security, etc.” to improve the quality of travel experience.