It may be time for Railways to abandon rake sharing arrangement

What is in a name, or rather a name-board on some trains? “Plenty of confusion,” many travellers would say, because destination boards on coaches could be utterly misleading and could bring on an adrenaline rush, especially for passengers at an intermediate station where stoppage is barely a minute.
While for the Railways, it is standard practice under the Rake Sharing Arrangement (RSA) to use rakes of one train that has completed its journey for another going to a completely different destination, for passengers the combined display boards can be misleading.
“Displaying dual destination boards on a train can only add to a passenger’s anxiety,” said consumer activist T. Sadagopan.
For instance, the Chendur express heading for Chennai leaves with the board Tiruchendur-Chennai Egmore-Mannargudi-Mayiladuthurai, though it does not go to Mayiladuthurai.
In fact, this train has an RSA with the Mannai Express and the Mannargudi-Mayiladuthurai passenger too. Its first run is from Tiruchendur to Chennai Egmore from where it is operated to Mannargudi as Mannai Express and then as the Mannargudi-Mayiladuthurai passenger special.
Or take the Train no 56041 passenger that starts from Tirupathy and arrives at Puducherry and immediately morphs as the Pondicherry-Egmore passenger (Train No. 56038) even while retaining a display board that says ‘Tirupathy-Puducherry-Chennai Egmore. “A layman waiting at an intermediate station could mistake it as a direct train to Chennai Egmore,” Mr. Sadagopan said.
In slightly different circumstances, passengers can get confused when pairing trains are simultaneously stationed at different platforms of a station. For instance, Jagadeesh and Saravanan were at Chennai Egmore last week to board the Pallavan Express. On seeing the train on a platform being attended to by mechanics, they thought the train was being turned around for the journey.
On realising that something was amiss well past departure time, they cross-checked with a station official to find that the ‘real’ Pallavan express had already left from a different platform.
Railway officials say the RSA system is a pro-passenger measure, as it helps Railways run more number of services on diverse routes by optimising usage of tracks and reducing the idling time of rakes. For instance, the RSA helped operationalise over 3,800 regular express trains and close to 4,000 specials in 2012-13.According to a Southern Railway official, the RSA has helped circumvent coach shortage as a stumbling block for operating more number of services and meeting the aspirations of the travelling public.
The RSA pattern where many trains are linked by the same rake has resulted in a practice where the rakes of an express train are used for a train to another destination at the platform itself. “When a rake does not go to the maintenance pit lines, boards that display names of both trains are necessary,” an official explained.
However, to avoid confusion, Southern Railway is pitching for hinged belly board design where more than one train can be displayed individually and names can be changed at the platform before the next train starts. “It is expected that this new design will solve the problem to a large extent”, he said.The Research Design and Standards Organisation is also designing micro processor operated LED train indication boards. “Once the design is standardised, Railways will provide it in a phased manner,” an official said.