The Rajdhanis Create Delusion of Quality Service, Food
First of all, my favourite train between Goa and Delhi is the Sampark Kranti Express, the 12449/12450. However, as it has now been extended to start from and terminate at Chandigarh, the algorithms for reservations, especially in First AC, are skewed to favour passengers boarding at Chandigarh which, in turn, keeps the waiting list pending till four hours before the departure of the train from Chandigarh.
 
This is a game with all trains in India, the four-hour window when all 'quotas' are released, but it is worse in 1AC because allotment of lower berths is kept pending for these 'quotas', which are the bane of our passenger reservation system.
 
In addition, the 12449/12450 also operates only twice a week, which did not fit in with our travel plans this time. So, perforce, we booked ourselves on the costlier Trivandrum Rajdhani, the 12432, which appears to have not-so-good reviews online for catering and other services. One reason for this is that the same catering and support crew work non-stop on this train for a journey that is over 3,000 kilometres and almost 48 hours long. The other big reason is that this train appears to be over-staffed, with the usual passing the buck going on, and the NO FOOD option available on many other trains is not available here.
 
Why, for example, the catering staff cannot distribute and collect bedrolls is a valid question. But simple solutions fall afoul of an assortment of vertical silos and horizontal frictions with Indian Railways. 
 
Into all this, then, is lobbed our favourite, IRCTC, Indian Railways Catering & Tourism Corporation who, it must be said, do a great job in many other aspects—as long as one doesn't depend on them for catering on the Rajdhani and Shatabdi class of trains. Some sort of weird legacy is at work here. Which, in turn, makes IRCTC treat passengers who are known as 'the public' as captive prisoners. But I get ahead of my story.
 
We reached Hazrat Nizamuddin Railway Station with about 30 minutes to spare for departure time and, for a change, there was no big traffic mess at the entry.
 
There was, as usual, the old parking scam at this railway station of trying to force cars and cabs into the parking lot, to exit from which one has to shell out Rs50.
 
Once we got around that, we disembarked at our favourite spot, near the Platform 1 entry from where the un-sign-posted elevator can be reached. 
 
Why are elevators not sign-posted at many railway stations? So that you look at the formidable steps and seek assistance for which there is a substantial fee. To be fair, the railway station area was very clean, though our platform number 4 and 5 was under repairs with all sorts of construction material lying around, obviously not barricaded or sign posted. 
 
What really intrigued me was the substantial fee demanded this time from me—a mind-boggling Rs850. For one mid-sized suitcase and two trolleys. I once again blame my brightly coloured socks for this; they were bright pink this time, and so we happily rolled our bags to the coach ourselves. Till the asking rate dropped down to a more reasonable Rs200 to our coach.
 
First AC on the Trivandrum Rajdhani is at the tail of the train when leaving North India. We departed dot on time at 10.55. And then picked up speed. And that's when the coupler fun started. I've encountered the sharp retort type LHB coupler issue many times on Indian Railways; but this was a totally different ball game, with both frequency and amplitude suggesting something totally amiss. The Nizamuddin to Kota non-stop section is a high-speed one demanding an average speed of 104kmph (kilometres per hour) so the train is often travelling at maximum speeds approaching 115-120kmph, and that's when the jerks really make life uncomfortable. It became better on the slower Kota to Vadodara section with an average speed of 77kmph, and with diesels on the much slower Vadodara to Madgaon section, the coupler jerks were almost absent—which could also have to do with the visible lack of maintenance on this rake.
 
Primary maintenance of most Rajdhani Express rakes is done in and around Delhi, and vests with Northern Railway, which appears to be over-worked. The Trivandrum Rajdhani has a rake sharing arrangement with the Secunderabad, Madgaon and Chennai Rajdhanis, and, as a result, unlike the dedicated rakes for Mumbai and Kolkata, appears to be nobody's baby. The Mumbai Rajdhani rakes, for example, operate only between Mumbai and Delhi, and primary maintenance is carried out in Mumbai, so there is obviously a lot of accountability.
 
Luckily, we carry a small cleaning kit with us when travelling, so cleaned the tables, berths, windows, crockery and cutlery provided on our own. The very good part for us was that we had four berths to ourselves all through—even though the train reservation had shown waiting list for over a month. And food on this train is not optional.
 
Which brings me to the worst part of the otherwise brilliant journey. From the time-table part, this train to the west coast of India from North India is ideal, though it could incorporate a few more stops en route in the catchment areas. But, for the rest, the catering crew onboard this train, who also form the largest and, therefore, dominant contingent on board, appear to have nil willingness to adhere to any forms of hygiene, sanitation, or safety.
 
You know what happens when one contingent is 20+ strong, and the rest are in 1s or 2s? Nobody takes on the fairly militant catering crew on these trains, least of all the variety of superintendents or managers onboard, and that's a simple fact. They run the train and everybody else keeps quiet. This extends to the way they treat passengers too. Aggression towards meek passengers is part of the course.
 
In this day and age, I video record such episodes and send it to safe accounts at home, and let them know I am doing this. Not meek.
 
 
I spotted -
 
# fire extinguishers removed from their securing points so that food trays could be stacked there.
 
# about 50% of the doors of the train blocked by food trays and garbage.
 
 
# used crockery and cutlery being washed in toilets and then dry-wiped with one cloth throughout the journey.
 
# plastic and other waste being collected and then vanishing in the middle of the night, probably thrown trackside.
 
# the less said about the excessive oil used in the all dishes, the better.  All food tastes the same.
 
# attitude. Instead of trying to resolve matters, the two catering managers onboard just appear to give up.
 
# the less said about the conditions in the pantry car the better. I'm not expecting ship galley perfection but something should be clean?
 
 
We resolved the expected food issues by carrying our own, though our ticket price included about Rs500 charged for three meals and two teas over a 26-hour journey, menu for which is also getting repetitive and not representative of anything except the lowest bid. In addition, using the same IRCTC's online service, we ordered a brunch for ourselves at Ratnagiri station on day 2 from a co-op outlet, paid for it online whilst the train was rolling, and received some excellent kolim + 3 jawar bhakris and sambar + 3 idlis with a delicious curd-based chutney representative of the best of Maharashtrian Konkan cuisine. For all of Rs118 delivered to us—the delivery person almost missed the train and ran to hand it to the guard from whose coach I then collected it.
 
 
Thing is, not that Indian Railways cannot deliver good healthy food to passengers. Food on some trains is legendary, brilliant. 
 
Thing is, that the attitude towards passengers especially of Rajdhani and Shatabdi trains where 'NO FOOD' is not an option is that we are 'the public' ( as in 'public toilet') as different from 'the Quota VVIPs/VIPs' (as in HO Quota etc). It took a few tweets for the size of the boiled eggs to become massive and decent crockery cutlery to arrive, while veg breakfast on offer changed from the usual triple fried cutlets to the brilliant upma-sheera transferred from the preceding 10,111 Konkan Kanya. (yes, I recognise the taste of the upma sheera from Ahuja Caterers on the 10111/10112 cum 10103/10104, and have my own sources too.)
 
All Rajdhani and Shatabdi Express and similar trains need to become NO FOOD optional trains as soon as possible. Delivery of hot freshly cooked meals onboard is very convenient and brings in a much needed healthier option that the tray of lowest bids served from the pantry/kitchen car. And, most of all, the attitude of the catering staff onboard, whether contractual or employed, will change. NO FOOD, from what I am told, is up to 30% on some trains and rising.
Comments
Veeresh Malik
3 years ago
Update - I took the Arunachal Express from Anand Vihar to Barauni, and am on the Vaishali Express back from Barauni to New Delhi. Both these trains are NO FOOD on ticket trains, and as a reason are much cleaner, simple as that.
Harish Kohli
3 years ago
I travel from Nizamuddin to Goa (Mudgaon) by Trivandrum Rajdhani frequently, in 1st AC. Most of the irritants experienced by Veeresh and readers are correct. Request clarification and relate my experiences.
1. Parking charges of Rs. 50 . I have never been required to pay this.
2. Rs. 850/200. Is it with reference to coolie charges. My experience at Delhi; Rs. 100 per bag, I cart the trolley myself. Goa is a problem. No coolie carries the baggage on the head. They have a cart in which baggage of three or four passengers is ferried. Max 100 rupees for one bag. Disembarkation is on platform No 1 , exit is less than 100 meters, I start walking myself. At times the coolie comes down to Rs. 50/bag. Have never paid more than Rs. 100/bag.
3. Major expense is on taxi. It's a mafia. I stay near the Dabolim airport, it costs Rs. 900 one way.
4. I travel by train only when I had heavy baggage. To get a confirmed ticket in 1st AC you need to book 2 months in advance and I get nearly 50% off as a senior senior citizen. If you book by air in advance, you would not have to pay much more. As an example I booked Delhi - Goa by Air Vistara on 18th January for travel on 11 April. Return fare, including meals, is Rs. 6238, less than the train fare if taxi / & coolie charges are added. All hotels have complementary transport.
By the way Veeresh I once travelled by non Rajdhani in 1st AC. No food charges but I got really fed up. Every few minutes hawkers were knocking at the door for tea (in paper cups), chocolates, vadas and even chains to secure your baggage. To be more comfortable, forget the Rs. 500 charged by Rahdhani and order the food from outside caterers. Considering the few stops, do check the hours at which the food will be served.
Veeresh Malik
Replied to Harish Kohli comment 3 years ago
1) The parking scam at Nizamuddin is by way of a moveable barrier which targets the unwary into entering the parking lot. I have avoided this in the past and written about it too but it continues. Most cabbies know how to avoid it by getting into the auto lane. The best lane closest to the portico is, obviously, blocked for VIP types. Buses are kept the furthest away when by rights they should be closest.
2) The coolie demand for 850/- at Nizamuddin astounded me too. Eventually brought down to 200/- for a mid-sized suitcase. When on my own I never take porters. At Madgaon, yes, pleasant uplifting walk to the taxi point.
3) Taxi, yes, it is costlier in Goa. We paid 950/- on Goa Miles to Dona Paula, near NIO Circle, on GoaMiles.
4) Railways are like a potion for me. Flights depend a lot on day of the week and holiday season. We have friends at Dabolim side too, but also live Porvorim side, so manage with borrowed cars. Self drive with black plates/yellow numbers sounds interesting now BUT drinking and driving is a problem so back to GoaMiles.

Non Rajdhani in 1AC non-LHB coaches are much smoother in terms of the LHB Coupler jerks. I usually paste a small DND on the door and am left alone. And yes, eCatering by IRCTC is the best solution - getting bhakri (jawar) with dried fish at RatnaGiri through eCatering by IRCTC was the best part of our journey.

I am likely (subject re-confirmation on 1AC, because "quotas" are released only 4 hours before) towards the North East by train soon and am very happy to note that eCatering is available in small railway stations en route too - with idli-sambar being like a generic.

When solo, I prefer 2nd Sleeper non-AC on the Sampark Kranti Class trains, as they have fewer commercial stoppages. Maintenance also appears to be better on these non-LHB rakes plus no noise/pollution from EOG cars on both sides of the train.
Ralph Rau
3 years ago
Is flying not safer and more comfortable compared to Indian Rail ?

What is the fatality rate per 100,000 ? Isnt the fatality rate rising?

https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/death-on-the-rails-indias-track-record/article20551287.ece

The unhygienic conditions are just another X factor.
Veeresh Malik
Replied to Ralph Rau comment 3 years ago
Apart from the fact that I enjoy trains (I am onboard another tomorrow) I also believe that the Indian Railways provide a fair deal to customers, pax and cargo. The big problem is with trains where food is "compulsory".
AAR
3 years ago
Most of the Central Government jobs including Railways are given to people from Hindiland - Biharis and UPwallahs.
Biharis and UPwallahs convert their Organization into their home state Bihar and UP.
RV M
3 years ago
We suffer our travel because perhaps our horrible experiences just never reach the top.
Granted Secretaries and Ministers cannot waste time in train travels and if railway officers travel the service they get is of course the best. Dynamic ministers like Mr Goyal should be invited to a session at MONEYLIFE and let him come with a few Board members. Your hall will be overflowing with audience guaranteed even if you move to Y B V]=Chavan Hall. If our minister is serious about changing the condition & ordeals we suffer in train travels let us help him set up voluntary monitoring groups who help him get unfiltered feedback. If the PM can drive our Swacha Bharat drive why can our railway minister not initiate a Better Indian Railway movement across India. Mr Prabhu has made some progress with cleaner railway platforms. We have made progress in Cleaner Cities with rankings for Clean Cities and seen the change. We have a few thousand retired above 65 years IIT & IIM graduates very sharp minds and capabilities they can help railway services improve & accountability as voluntary teams North, South, East, West & Central India that can receive complaints and tabulate them every month and monitor action taken charts.Worth a try for Mera Bharat Mahan.
Vivek Rana
3 years ago
This train and train staff both are disgusting. I had a high fiver, I was in a AC 2, in the month of October , I asked to to please give me one extra blanket as I was traveling alone. First they refused to give me the extra blankets, I told them I will pay extra, first they ask money and then I paid 100 rupess extra for the blanket. And then that staff got vanished for more then 2 hours. I keep on telling this to bother staff, but no one was well-behaved to answer me properly.
, half of the train was empty, food was very bad... Chapati was I think prepared atleast 3 hours before serving to the passengers. I had a picture of Food , later I Deleted, as I'm not gonna travel again by Goa-delhi this train. Flight is okay
Veeresh Malik
Replied to Vivek Rana comment 3 years ago
Food and bedroll should be optional extras on all Rajdhani & Shatabdi Class trains as soon as possible.
SURAJIT SOM
3 years ago
I travelled in the same train just two weeks ago. My priority was to reach the destination with as less suffering as possible( in addition to old age, diseases, death ,we should also add suffering in train journey !!!). Malikji talks about legendary food and then confirmation before 4hours !!!! Pantry, food in ANY train should be kept to minimum: tea,coffee, milk ,sandwishes etc. Food should be ordered and then collected from stations en route. So much space will be freed including an entire coach !!! With beggars having mobile ,that should not be a problem. Then –well,yes-we so clean Indians at home- TOILETS !!! There should pay-for-toilet(and sink ,may be) manned 24 hours: say 5 Rs for urinal and 10 ….All money should go to the attendant . Salary/tips etc will be extra. Any takers ? By the way, there still remains problems: dacoits, train accident ,…….!!!!
Veeresh Malik
Replied to SURAJIT SOM comment 3 years ago
This is a workable solution but then the upwards distribution of wet income will be distributed. As for garbage, it is almost as though IR wants to distribute garbage all-India. A 1/- per 100ml/100 grams refundable surcharge on all plastic type packaging would soon fix this problem. But who wants to fix this problem?
SURAJIT SOM
Replied to Veeresh Malik comment 3 years ago
Can you elaborate your first line ? Plastic should be banned completely , simple. Our forefathers lived without it ,right ?
Ayman sharma
3 years ago
I had near death experience after i travelled in delhi Sealdah rajdhani 12314, i was in AC2 and served with bad vegetarian food next day when I reached home. My health condition started deteriorating from that day I stay alert and use home food
Amey Badle
3 years ago
Even my experience of MUMBAI RAJDHANI is kind of similar one. I have travelled many a times from Delhi to Mumbai from 12952 Rajdhani and every time I have found that on board food is pathetic and can't be eaten. During one trip, they served uncooked rice. I had made 2 complaints about the incidences to Railways. However, they simply replied stating that the complaint has been forwarded to IRCTC for further action. I have not got any action report on the same till date.
AAR
3 years ago
One way to avoid disgusting photos is cover it up with a warning for viewers to proceed by clicking a reveal button aka Content Warnings.
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