Packed platforms, shit-strewn tracks, terrible meals, shabby waiting rooms, stinking restrooms reveal that there is much to be done in the Indian Railways. With air travel becoming affordable, many families end up heading to airports. And soon our airports may soon end up the railway way!
In May this year I travelled on a holiday, with my family, to China. We did 8500 km of rail-travel in comfort and style, at a very reasonable budget.
Like India, China is heavily populated. But unlike us, the Chinese seemed to be a disciplined society; doing things with greater involvement, participation and joy. There are many aspects that sheer copying and adapting in the realms of Railways, would benefit us.
Chinese train numbers generally start with an alphabet signifying the category. The Bullet Trains apart, the rest are categorised as C, D & G, Z, T and K trains. The C, D & G trains are high-speed trains with ultra-modern air-conditioned coaches and efficient power-cars at each end.
Efficiency, punctuality and comfort
Our travel was by the T category and we experienced nothing but efficiency, punctuality, comfort and cost-effective journey across 8500 km travel! There were many aspects of the travel that created a ‘wow’ effect.
First, there is a 100 per cent airline-like security check in with X ray scanning of our baggage. We were checked for tickets, name verification, bogey number and berths and then guided to a dedicated waiting hall. Secondly, passengers cannot rush into the platforms and have to wait for the trains! In fact, the platform is locked! Yes, only 30 minutes ahead of the train departure, the platform is opened and passengers are permitted to enter. Thirdly, the train and coaches are spic-and-span: clean, no advertisements, no remnant of passenger list... The coach numbers stand out vividly across every entry-point in perfect symmetry. The entry has a red-carpeted drawbridge between the platform and the coach. With royal feel and greater comfort, one can wheel-in the bag and enter into the coach. With departure scheduled for 20:01 hours from Beijing West, our T 27 moved in at the assigned time!
Soon, the ticket checker (a lady) stepped in to verify our tickets. The tickets are exchanged for a ‘Credit Card-like Plastic Ticket’, which should be kept with us always. The train is fully carpeted, equipped with hot-drinking-water geyser for all our tea/coffee and hot-cup noodle usage.
Train attendant plays multiple roles
He refills the hot water flask, clears the waste bins, sweeps the floor and maintains the toilets. The toilet is of the vacuum suction type that clears every mess in the pot like in an air-plane. They are kept locked at the stations.
During one sector, we sought to shift our seats from chair-car to sleeper berth; the same attendant enabled the re-ticketing and received cash for the difference. They look after the heating, air-conditioning, power and the overall security as well! The sheer multi-tasking with such finesse demonstrated the Chinese pride in dignity of labour. The railway staff were energetic, passenger-friendly and cooperative. The signages are in English and Chinese while the electronic display shared the train speed and altitude levels constantly. The train supplemented oxygen in the coaches for travel at high altitude.
The entire stretch of the track, on both sides, was well barricaded. Not a single area had breached for people or animals to transgress into the track. In many places, multi-level barricade with special engineering held the soil firm.
As the destination approaches, the Train Attendant clears the bins and awaits the final halt with the all-purpose key. She then sets the lever to open the hydraulic doors and drop the walk-over bridge. On arrival at Lhasa after some 43 hours of comfortable train travel, the platform once again gets emptied as passengers start departing. In minutes, the platform is sealed.
In India, we need to practice each of these. There is no shame in copying good practices.