Travelling by train has its own charm. It’s also the most economical mode of transport, particularly when it comes to long-distance travel. Said to be fourth largest railway network in the world with a total track of over 67,368 km, Indian Railways caters to around 8.26 billion passengers annually. However, the railway services leave much to be desired.

One of the most common issues on the vast network is punctuality. Barring a few trains like Rajdhani or Shatabdi, hardly any train runs punctually. The situation is particularly bad in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Bengal. Despite the Prime Minister questioning the reason for trains habitually running late, the situation has not improved.

Then there is the problem of free-loaders, which is costing the railway exchequer a fair amount. Apart from regular ticketless travellers, there are passengers who board even express trains for short-distance travel. Naturally, they refuse to buy tickets. However, the worst of these offenders are friends and relatives of the railway staff.

A colleague narrated how on a recent visit to Bihar, he had bought a ticket for AC Second Class to avoid crowds. However, little did he know that he had to share his seat with a string of passengers, who travel for a station or two. Our colleague noticed that these passengers, all free-loaders, were connected to some member of the railway staff or the other. Entering the AC coach as if it was their right, they ask the ticket-holding passengers to “adjust” and make themselves comfortable. Some of them come in a group along with luggage and put regular passengers to much discomfort.

What also struck our colleague was that these “staffers’ passengers” do not board the sleeper class but invade the AC coaches. Not that travelling ticketless in any class of the train is acceptable but they create a lot of nuisance apart from the loss to the Railways on account of their travelling in an AC coach. But the moot question, our colleague wondered, was why should a passenger, who has bought a ticket, have to suffer because of these freeloaders?