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Vande Bharat Express disrupts India's great travelling public

While the popularity of the train is uncontested, many relatives who linger over their goodbyes find themselves travelling perforce, as the doors once closed, open only at the next station.

, ET Bureau|
May 03, 2019, 11.00 PM IST
Seats that don't recline as much as Shatabdi seats are a concern as are the small meal tables.
ON BOARD VANDE BHARAT EXPRESS: The train operator sitting in the rear coach of the Vande Bharat Express from Delhi to Varanasi is a busy man. From warning friends and relatives who come to see passengers off over a public address system at each of the stops to get off before the automatic doors close, alerting air-conditioning staff to change the temperature in coaches and getting the rest-rooms fixed, officials on India’s fastest train have a challenge – dealing with entrenched habits of the Indian rail traveller.

“People ask why these seats don’t recline fully like those of a Shatabdi. The foot rest rises in a couple of stages but people just pull it up with a jerk, breaking it at times,” the train superintendent is heard telling S. Srinivas, the chief planning engineer at Integral Coach Factory (ICF), Chennai, and his team which is on a review trip last week on the train he designed.

“These seats (in the executive class) move forward and recline so as not to invade into the space or inconvenience the rear passenger. Seats were imported from Spain, this is like a European concept,” Srinivas explained to ET. The seats recline less in the normal chair car and some find this inconvenient on the long 8-hour journey. “The food tray table is too small,” a passenger in the chair car complains.

Before the train started from Delhi, there were repeat announcements to people who came to see off passengers right inside the train to get off. Railway Protection Force (RPF) personnel on the train warn passengers to not get off at any of the two intermediate stations, Kanpur and Prayagraj, if they are not disembarking as the doors once closed, won’t reopen.

“It is a habit that people come to see off a passenger inside the coaches. There are instances, invariably each day, when the automatic doors close and the person has to take the trip till the next station and pay a fine. Just a few days ago, two persons who settled an old lady inside the coach in Delhi, had to travel till Kanpur. The train pulls off very quickly from the platform and there is no scope to stop it once it leaves the platform,” an official on the train said. As the train only stops at Kanpur and Prayagraj en route to Varanasi, that is one long trip for a person not intended to be on the train.

The ‘Pas senger Emergency
Communication Unit’ (PECU) in every coach of Vande Bharat, meant for emergency calls to the train operator, has virtually become a tool for voicing complaints. “Please fix the rest room in Coach-6. Also, turn the AC cooling down in my coach,” a passenger says into the speaker. The train operator last Saturday, when ET was onboard the train, told this correspondent there were 30-40 calls on each trip. The PECU specifically mentions that it is for emergency calls and a fine of Rs 1000 can be imposed if it is used without sufficient reason. But the operator accommodates most service calls to cater to passenger comfort.

“There is an AC panel and temperature control system in every coach. In other trains, there is no system to reach the train operator to adjust the temperature, but this exists here due to PECU,” a train official said. At other times it delivers. Like on the onward journey to Varanasi last week, a person in a chair car coach started feeling uneasy and a call was made to the train operator, who immediately asked through the public address system if there was a doctor on board to attend to the person, mentioning his seat and coach number.

A doctor travelling in another coach attended the call. Srinivas told ET that his team is now working on the same rack, design and ambiance as that of Vande Bharat for a sleeper Rajdhani on night journeys. “This train is far better than European trains. You can see from one end of the train till the other by standing in the coach corridor. The train’s speed is displayed in each coach, there is diffused lighting inside and touch-based reading lights for passengers. The toilet wash basins are touch-free,” Srinivas says. Passengers on the train however say many more improvements can be made. Some said such a premium train should have routers and Wi-Fi connectivity rather than just pre-loaded Wi-Fi enabled entertainment content.

“One needs to be connected online on an 8-hour long journey. Given the ticket is at a premium - ` 1700-odd for a chair car and double for executive class - this should be offered,” at least two passengers told ET. Officials explained that the system is much like on airplanes where YouTube and internet streaming is not offered. Passengers also wish for an extra snack on the 8-hour long journey between Delhi and Varanasi.

Passengers in fact seem most focused on the food – many on the way back to Delhi last Saturday complained the dinner was served cold around 8:15 PM after being loaded from Kanpur almost 90 minutes earlier. Vande Bharat has tied up with private food outlets, Pind Baluchi in Prayagraj and Landmark Hotels in Kanpur, for the lunch and dinner served on the train on the up and down journey, respectively. But the popularity of the train is uncontested and it usually runs with full occupancy despite the high fare, officials on the train told ET.

“We thought the occupancy could fall after the Kumbh concluded in Prayagraj, but it has not. The train is totally full till Kanpur as it takes just four hours to Kanpur from Delhi - the total drill of taking a flight,” an official explained. The high-speed train was dot on time on journeys both ways train last week. This is something that the Indian rail traveller is also adjusting to, albeit pleasantly.
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