Railways poised on the Right Track!
Columns, Over A Cup of Evening Tea

Railways poised on the Right Track!

October 11, 2019

By Dr. K. Javeed Nayeem, MD

I woke up to a refreshing bit of news in my morning paper today. It appears the Government at the Centre is planning to privatise about 150 trains and 50 Railway Stations across the country in a bid to improve the travel experience of train travellers. As someone who has always enjoyed train travel during my childhood I welcome this move although I am a little apprehensive that it is likely to run into some rough weather or even get completely derailed due to protests from the Railwaymen themselves.

 A good many of them are likely to feel threatened by the prospect of being forced to lose their present lackadaisical work attitude or even their jobs, when a more quality-conscious management takes over the reins. That is why we see all such privatisation proposals in our country being resisted by all those who feel that they as the service providers are the ones who are most entitled to a comfortable experience rather than the ones who pay for it!

We all know very well that although we have made some giant strides in improving the quality of the life we are leading in most other spheres, when it comes to travelling by train, we are worse than where we were a few decades ago. I remember the time when travelling in a first class Railway compartment was like being a Maharaja for a brief spell. Each coach used to have its own uniformed attendant and at all the long stops called the ‘Watering Stops’ a waiter used to go round taking orders for tea and coffee as if in a restaurant. The seats and toilets used to be clean and tidy with all their fittings being fully functional. Even the second class compartments came close in this respect with just the cushioning of their seats being a little less plush. Every little complaint used to be attended to instantly at the very next stop, with the man doing it taking your signature in his workbook, acknowledging his action. No complaint was considered too trivial.

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As a school boy when  I was once travelling from Hassan to Mysore with my maternal grandfather in a second class compartment, when we complained that the fan was making a squeaky noise, we were offered an upgrade to a first class compartment free of cost even before the train left the platform! Incidentally, I am told that there used to be an additional category of rail travel called the inter-class sandwiched between the second and third class. Since I have not seen it, I am unable to say what it had or what it lacked! 

Nowadays things are so bad that most people who can afford to travel by other modes of travel shun rail travel even if it means spending considerably more money and longer time doing it. Very often, for short distances, train travel is indeed the most convenient mode since it offers point to point connectivity from city centre to city centre unlike air travel. It also beats travelling by road wading through exasperating traffic jams. But it has no takers from among all those who are deterred by the very poor quality of our Railway service.

Although our rail network has grown many times over from where our Rajas and the British left it and although it has now been almost completely standardised into broad gauge, its basic complexion has not changed much. Whenever you decide to travel by train it always means that you have to be ready to make many compromises on convenience, comfort and most importantly on cleanliness. I say this because as things stand now, the first impulse any cleanliness-conscious rail traveller harbours is to have a bath the moment he or she steps down from the train. This is not just to wash away the dust and grime, both real and imagined, but also to clear the mind of the angst and fatigue of the whole experience.

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Yes, angst and fatigue are the only words for what you feel after being held up in long delayed trains and nudged and pummelled all the way by all those who encroach on your reserved space, unmindful of the fact that they have stepped in where they are not supposed to. They are unmindful of their transgression simply because those who are paid by the Railways to do their duty of maintaining order are unmindful of why they are being paid their salaries. The fare that comes on your food tray is a far cry from what you would like to eat even as subsistence ration for the duration of your travel.

Incidentally, I have noticed that the food served on the Shatabdi Express especially on its run between Bengaluru to Mysuru is of the worst quality. Let alone foreigners, even die-hard natives find it difficult to ingest it and there is just no one to turn to with their complaints of its poor quality. As things stand today, using a toilet either on a train or at a Railway Station is a real nightmare and you have to do it simply because there is just no escape from responding to this primeval call, however high or mighty you are! You either choose to lower your standards and visit the loo with a pinched nose or raise them and not choose to travel by train at all. It is entirely up to you!

The quality of service has remained unchanged over the years. When you look back a little you will realise that things were not much different at our airports too till a few years ago when they were privatised or their maintenance got out-sourced to private agencies. Even now at most of the airports that are still being swept and mopped by the Government broom and mop the situation is not much different from what you see at any Railway Station.

I hope that with this new move to privatise some of our trains and Railway Stations we are going to see a much needed and much-awaited change for the better. The romance of rail travel for the likes of me is perhaps destined to make a comeback and happy days are perhaps right around the next bend in the track!

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4 COMMENTS ON THIS POST To “Railways poised on the Right Track!”

  1. boregowda says:

    You can not blame the railways entirely for the present condition. The public who use these facilities lack common sense and courtesy and need to be trained. The exploding population has a significant role in degraded services. It is high time population control is enforced like in china.

  2. B SHEKAR says:

    Sir, I accept the comments by Mr.Bore Gowda, public should use the toilet, flush out and help others to go. Further, I am a regular traveller and I observe that most of the public go for toilet, will not flush, will not close the door and when questioned or politely asked to the person who commit a mistake, they will argue with us and also you close the door and many times I observe that they will defend their mistakes and passengers sitting near the toilet will have a odd smell the passenger does not care for the people questioning and also arguments starts. This should be stopped. I am a regular traveller by Chamundi express, this is a problem the co-passengers are facing. Apart from the public I hold Railways also responsible because, they do not repai tap fixed in the wash basin and also the tap fixed to the toilet. Most of the times I observe that the handles will not work, spring will get cutt off and while the rake is in primary maintenance, the workers on duty will not repair the tap and other water pipelines.

  3. M A Khan says:

    Dear Sir,
    I agree Railways has a huge scope to improve on its service standards. But some notable improvements i have noticed are the electrification of most of the trains, reducing our use of fossil fuels for running of locos. Also the punctuality of the trains has drastically improved from earlier days.
    The food served in the trains is a letdown, which needs to be improved.
    I still fail to understand why the Railway budget was amalgamated with the Union budget, with Railways being such a huge enterprise.

  4. What a culture! says:

    The best example given in the West when mentioning an inefficient and much bloated ( with too many in the posts doing too little), public service is that of Indian Railways! This example, one hears in every Western country, whenever the value of a public service is discussed.
    I thought that I will never agree with @boregowda, but his observation of exploding population is spot on! Assuming that the article’s author is roughly 65 years of age.his childhood meant that it was some 55 years ago-in 1960s, and even at that time, the population of India was well half of what it is now. The trains were even crowded then,but the travel was tolerable and compartments were reasonably clean. The railways though was over manned -3 persons doing a single person’s work!
    The author is so wrong to claim that giant strides are taken place now to improve the quality of life.May be for him as a doctor, as there are a plethora of private clinics and hospitals in Mysore now,which means opportunities for a doctor to fleece the unfortunate patient. Un-necessary tests ordered on on patients yield plentiful money for the medico! Yes, good quality of life for him indeed!! As some one who lived in Mysore in 1950s, and not seeing so many private clinics , doctors,medical colleges like it has now, I remember to have had good health, with simple walking and cycling if necessary adding to my daily exercise. The air was clean with not that many polluting automobiles. No fast food chains and proper meals added to the well being. Our family doctor was a gentle person, who knew the medical history of each of us; we were sure that he went to his medical college based on pure merit. Travelling from Mysore to Bangalore, though a bit slow was nevertheless enjoyable , whether it was train or bus.
    India is sinking by the weight of its population explosion. When people are defecating in the streets and almost in any open space, what chance the train compartment has!!

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