Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Shatabdi Express In Ruins

I just returned back, after a 2-day pilgrimage trip to Udwada, by the Ahmadabad-Bombay Shatabdi Express. I boarded the train from Vapi. This is a premier and completely air-conditioned train; seats in this train are more costly than similar seats in other trains because Shatabdi gives you extra services like meals and bottled water, just like a full-fledged airline. As against a regular chair-car ticket from Vapi to Bombay Central would cost Rs 251, a Shatabdi train ticket costs Rs 375.  However, apart from the speed and convenient timings, the Ahmadabad Shatabdi is junk and a crappy train. The entire train looks like junk-yard material from the moment you set foot inside.

Poor maintenance: Compartments are very dirty and not well-maintained. My neighbour's seat was broken and I am almost sure that by the time he would got off at Borivali, he would have had a bad back. Other seats were hardly better, the one in front of me was perpetually in a pushed-back motion and was almost falling all over my lap. Bottle holders seemed like they were hastily attached to seats. My holder were dangling by a thread and was swinging wildly to the gyrations of the fast moving train and so was hitting my legs constantly; it was most irritating. Finally, it broke and both the bottle as well as the bottle-holder fell on the ground. I felt like throwing the piece of crap out of the window. The ticket-collector, all suited and booted and typically in Indian fashion all cosmetics but hardly substance, had no explanation about the pathetic condition of the compartment. 

I do not know why large LCD (TV) screens are fitted above all seats. They do not air the news or any meaningful program. Som re-run of a pre-televised show was going on of a song-and-dance reality show courtesy Zee TV. The show was useless and participants were dancing like junglis with no choreography whatsoever. It was one of the most boring things to be seen on TV and just as I had thought, nobody was interested.

Half-eaten food: But the worst of all was this. When the dinner trays came, my neighbour found much to his horror that the sweet which looked neatly packed in a small box was half-eaten! The attendant quickly replaced it, but the Indian railways are now giving half-eaten food to its customers? Is this why Shatabdi is charging us extra? Instead of launching 1,000 trains every year from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, Minister of Railways, Mr Laloo Prasad Yadav should concentrate on improving the services of the Indian Railway's existing fleet. Further, I did not know this before, but the Ahmadabad Shatadbi gives us a choice of a snack and a dinner, at night on the way to Bombay. You have to choose one and not both. The attendant did not bother of telling me this and thrusted me a place of 'snack'. Then, when I asked him about the choice, he said I could choose dinner instead, I preferred for the latter.  Also, the dinner choice has vegetarian and non-vegetarian. Without bothering to check with me, he gave me vegetarian. I gave it back to him and demanded non-vegetarian. And then, after all meals are over, they come with begging bowls in their hands expecting tips. Sloppy and pathetic service. 

Hypocritic government: Despite collecting around 40 per cent tax from Bombay, the Delhi power brass is always hypocritical and partial when it comes to improving the infrastructure of Bombay. I have travelled by the Delhi-Kalka Shatabdi and the ride is extremely pleasant. That train looks like an international one, its compartments are completely modern, clean and redesigned (large windows, plush seats, sliding window shades) to offer maximum comfort. They look beautiful and are esthetically superior to the Ahmadabad Shatadbi, despite - and I am reasonably sure about this - the Ahmadabad Shatabdi being much more patronised. Still the government does nothing to extend similar benefits to other parts of the country. And if the railway minister happens to be from UP or Bihar, then all they are interested in launching a thousand trains every year from their own constituencies. One more example of government's apathy, as if the other examples were not enough! 

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