In much of northern and central India, there is a lot of fog during the winter. This is the excuse for long delays in trains as well as flights. After two delayed trains yesterday, I have a slightly different view of the situation. While fog is surely the underlying cause, there seems to be another issue, one that is not advertised.

When any train gets late, it often gets later and later, as trains that are running on time have priority over those that don’t, except for the high-priority trains. And the Shatabdis and Rajdhanis are IndianRail’s premier trains, and they are supposed to have priority over all other trains. In many places, there is only a single track, so trains can’t pass each other.

The first train I took yesterday was the Bhopal Shatabdi. It left on time, but almost immediately started getting behind schedule, and it reached Gwalior two hours late. What I noticed was that the Shatabdi was not simply running slow, but that it was actually stopping and waiting for other trains to pass. And the other trains were almost all freight ( or ‘goods trains’, as the Indians call them) trains.

In the evening I had to take another train from Gwalior, and spent three cold hours sitting on the platform as the train’s status was continually being updated with departure times so close, that the train couldn’t have been more than a few km away. This was a middle-priority train, a Sampark Kranti. Passenger trains (a/k/a sardine class), which are trains without a/c coaches, are the lowest priority.

What I noticed was that all the freight trains came roaring through the station at high speed, and, unlike morning, it wasn’t particularly foggy. So if fog was slowing all the passenger-carrying trains, why was it not slowing down the goods trains? At least a dozen freight trains came by in the three hours I was sitting there, and there were also a few other express trains that came.

So my conclusion is that goods trains actually have the highest priority, at least in certain circumstances and on certain routes. For obvious reasons, IRCTC doesn’t advertise this, as they would like us to feel we are more important than freight.

Comments? I’d love to know what you have observed or heard about this.

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