For a rail commuter, health is more important and therefore, an increasingly large number of railway passengers are playing it safe by bringing their own food and light bedding. So, why not make food and bedroll charges optional on Garib Rath trains?
If you have ever booked a ticket on a “Garib Rath” class train on the Indian Railways, then you would have observed that the bedroll charges of Rs25 are an optional extra, to be paid for in advance if you want one. This guarantees you a set on these super-fast fully-air-conditioned fully AC-3Tier trains run on high-speed Rajdhani equivalent schedules. Likewise, in case they have ample bedrolls left unused, then you can pay onboard.
Hot fresh cooked food is also supplied onboard, in casseroles picked up at origin and en-route stations, and is mostly ‘dry’ non-gravy. On some routes there is provision for hot water so that tea or coffee, sold separately with paper cups, can also be consumed. By and large, Garib Rath trains operate like low-cost no-frill airlines—and do away with the additional cost as well as liability of lugging a full pantry car along. This saving is then worked back into the ticket price—which makes the AC-3T option on a Garib Rath about the best way to travel by train in India.
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It also reduces the generation of waste and packaging material, thrown as garbage along the way, because the “dry hot cooked meal” is provided in simple cardboard boxes—without any of the usual plastic or foil.
On the other hand, bedrolls are now part of the ticket price on all air-conditioned classes, and hot cooked food of the wet and gravy sort served at your berth or seat is part of the ticket price on Rajdhani, Duronto and Shatabdi class trains. This used to be a reasonable concept till a few years ago, but there are issues now, which make it essential that the Indian Railways take a fresh look at this whole concept.
Starting with the bedrolls—as is perceived, it is apparent that the blankets don’t go for a dry-cleaning or suitable freshen up for 10-15 journeys. Pillows, likewise. Bed sheets appear to be re-used, especially in AC-3T while hand-towels appear to be fresh. There are simple economic reasons for this. However, as a rail user, that is of no consequence to me, since my health is more important. You can actually now buy a brand new half-way decent blanket with two bed-sheets for a couple of hundred rupees outside most railway stations, or you can bring your own from home, and use your own towel as a pillow. Anything would be, in most cases, better than what is supplied on our trains now.
Food—what used to be often a memorable meal on trains, especially the Rajdhanis, is now more like a “eat and be done with it” experience, especially in AC-2T or 3T. Sure, the hot soup is welcome, but after that—the breadsticks have started tasting of maida gone bad, yellow salted butter is not good for us, the “chocolate éclairs” are made of hydrogenated oils, the curries are watery at best and the “ice-cream” is what is known as “frozen dessert” or coloured flavoured vanaspati. About the rotis and rice, the less said the better.
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For that, and for the pleasure of serving a fresh cooked meal to the VIPs in AC-First, some of these Rajdhani Express trains now lug two full pantry cars on their journeys. Apart from the huge cost incurred, there is also the risk to passengers on trains, of accidents and fires caused because of this.
It is about time food and bedrolls were made optional extras on these trains, with a higher charge levied to set off better quality, for those who want to eat onboard. There is an increasingly larger and growing number of railway passengers who are playing it safe, by bringing their own food and light bedding, who would also benefit.
(Veeresh Malik had a long career in the Merchant Navy, which he left in 1983. He has qualifications in ship-broking and chartering, loves to travel, and has been in print and electronic media for over two decades. After starting and selling a couple of companies, is now back to his first love—writing.)