Indian Rail Journeys – Old wine in a New Bottle?
Summer vacations got over a few weeks back and with it one of three official travelling rush period got over, things will be in slow mode till Diwali fever kicks in and after that Christmas. Every year during these rush periods, thousands of us travel across the length and breadth of the country to meet our relatives or visit tourist sites to get away from the scorching heat of summer. I remember the ritual very clearly which was part of every summer vacation during my school years. The tickets used to get booked either in advance if we planned to take the night train or to be bought at current ticket counter if it’s decided to take the morning one. Living in Delhi and being only 300 Kms away from my grandparents whom we visited during every summer vacation, long train journeys were not required, however when I compare those days with today, a lot have changed, however unfortunately a lot remains exactly the same it was almost 15 years back, when these journeys were a frequent affair for me.
Source: www.flickr.com/photos/14589121@N00/4808584361Although Indian Railways offer some of the best luxury train rides in the world,over all state of Indian Railways is still quite bad
We have developed a lot as a nation in last 15 years, specially the middle class of the country which now has a substantial purchasing power, making many MNCs drool with greed and that’s evident in the way we travel also now a days. If you compare the infrastructure which Railways has today, with what they had two decades back then it seems things have changed for better. The platforms are cleaner (at least in major cities), the stations have proper toilets and drinking water facilities with some even having much better retiring rooms, multi cuisine restaurants, elevators/escalators, proper parking, better displays on platforms etc. Reservation systems have improved by leaps and bounds and computerization of even the small stations have made it very easy to get a ticket. However, all this seems useless at times when you actually start a journey.
Supposed you get a nice packet of chocolate, wrapped in finest paper and packed beautifully, but when you eat it, the taste is nowhere as good as the packing, will it matter to you that it was packaged nicely. I know the feeling you will have at that time, it’s of being cheated. You were shown a product which looked beautiful, however the moment you actually got to the core product, it came out as sub-standard. I think this is exactly the case with the Railways at the moment. When you read the list of positives which I mentioned above, it looks that things have changed entirely for better, however when we experience the actual service it seems that truth is similar to many government plans and schemes which exists on paper only.
The ordeal starts with the booking of ticket on the railway website, which takes an eternity to load during peak time. The alternative, go to the ticket counter at the station, but for that you have to get in the queue as early as 4 or 5 in the morning. You must have experienced that most of the time, tickets are available in the non-ac coaches, however AC coaches are completely booked months in advance, which makes you wonder, why can’t Railways increase the AC coaches in the trains and reduce the Non-AC ones, a very noble thought, given the increased per capita income AC coaches can now be afforded by masses, let me address that point a bit later.
Source: www.flickr.com/photos/andy_morris/5475383961Dirty train stations, trains & toilets are just some of the issues Indian Railways is addressingbut not much has changed
Assuming now that you have been able to book a ticket successfully, and the date of journey has arrived. You reach the station thinking of all the good things which are now in place as mentioned above, but then to your horror you realize most of them don’t work or are only partially available. Lets for a moment ignore the elevators or escalators as they are already running on double capacity with half the maintenance, thanks to our ever increasing population, but then what stops the restaurant at the station to serve better food, or the toilets to be cleaner. You cannot even dare to drink the water available at the platform and immediately run to buy a bottle of water, which unfortunately could be the same water as available on the tap, but you feel secure, because it comes in a so called sealed bottle and more so because you paid Rs. 20 for it although the m.r.p. said 15.
Things don’t improve once you get in the train, and it can go worse if your journey exceeds 12 hrs and you have to eat three square meals served in the train, for which you will pay a price which can buy you a decent meal in a decent place, but there will not be anything decent about these meals. Let me leave this here only and not mention the unmentionable which goes on in the pantry car of the train. At multiple occasions, I had to request (read beg) the coach attendant to provide me with full set of bedding which is included in the AC coach fare, hence it’s fair to assume that I am not the only one who has suffered like this. Clean toilets are something which exists only on paper, in most of the trains, except maybe Rajdhani or Shatabadi, that too for first 500 Kms.
Source: www.flickr.com/photos/kholkute/5332925014Railways remain preferred mode of travel for millions, even when air tickets in India are some
of the cheapest in the world.
After going through this journey, when you get down at the platform, which boasts of cleanliness, multi cuisine restaurants, drinking water and many more basic amenities, you get the same feeling as you would after eating the chocolate mentioned above. Does it matter if there is a mall on the station where you can go and shop for one hour before taking up the 24 hr journey where you will keep on suffering due to lack of basic facilities? After reading all this, you might even say, “why are you making a fuss, the train journeys are supposed to be like this” or some may even enjoy this as an adventure too, if that’s the case, then sadly you have been bitten by the mediocrity bug which is very commonly found in India.
Finally, what is the solution to all these issues, shall we accept them like we have done since last so many years or something needs to be done. I guess it’s time to understand the basic issue here and let me get back to the point made earlier about increasing the AC coaches and reducing the non-AC ones. There are still millions who can’t afford the AC coaches and then there are thousands who don’t even know what is meant by a reserved seat, the first and foremost solution is to ensure that this service reaches these people, multi cuisine restaurants can wait. We also need to get out of our mindset of assuming inferior and mediocre service in the trains, put up complaints for these incidents and inform the authorities. We don’t need luxuries while we travel, but just the basics which can make us comfortable and make the journey enjoyable.
Mayank is an IT consultant by profession and a traveller - sometimes by choice and other timese by sheer necessity. Mayank has travelled extensively in India and Europe, having experienced a lot of issues, he tries to highlight them so that at least someone takes notice.