It has been a long time since I travelled on Indian Railways (a little over 14 months since the last travel !).
Sometimes the only way to reach your destination in India is by train – the roads are unreliable and accident-prone. The safer and surer way would be to trust the Indian Railways.
Of course, as I found out last week, nothing much has changed with the railways, though time has flown by, and the world has changed. Some things remain the same, and a very good example is the railways in India.
Though there was an ambitious plan to convert each railway station to a shopping mall, and increase the security for travelling passengers, not an inch seems to have moved. Indian Railways has valuable real estate properties spread all over India, and under an efficient administration, would have moved ahead in this era of modernity to capitalise on the market opportunities.
I found that the railway station was dirty, over crowded, unsecured, full of touts waiting to pounce on unsuspecting passengers, and provided no customer service or waiting facilities. These things haven’t changed a bit. The only good thing was the arrival of your train at the right time, and its departure at almost the right time, with the ticket checking inspectors (called Train Ticket Examiners) in blue coats and ties entering each compartment to check whether you have tickets to travel on that train.
There is no change in the train either – even in the air-conditioned compartments, with difficult-to-open glass doors, and outdated wash rooms. Everything is same, including the fact that the Ticket Examiners invariably get hounded by wait-listed passengers who know that they cannot get it as the ticket list has been closed, but still trying their luck. The air-conditioning is good on Indian trains, so one would need blankets, which are supplied free of cost. The average speed is around 60 KMPH, and you always feel good to hit the bed in the slightly rocking train which would put you into a solid good sleep in no time.
However, please watch over your own belongings and wake up with your own alarm, as there are no announcements (I wonder why not ?). It is easy to miss your destination, if it arrives early in the morning and you are sleeping in air-conditioned comfort, and nobody bothers you or about you.
Well, I enjoyed the travel on two consecutive nights, and I thought it is always a pleasure to travel on something which does not change or accelerate unnecessarily, despite the obvious inconveniences which I nowadays always ignore. Though my colleague and myself did get into a conversation with a fellow passenger on a comparison with China, I concluded that it is not a worthwhile discussion. The only way things are going to improve dramatically is if the Indian Railways gets competition and that does not appear to be on the anvil in the foreseeable future.
Welcome to Indian Railways and its non-changing system of trains and stations.
20th November 2011