Thursday, May 02, 2013

Nice to be posting again after almost two years!



DOUBLE DECKER – NOT EVEN THE CURATE’S EGG

When I first booked tickets for travel for a return journey on Train number 22626 Bangalore City (SBC) Chennai Central (MAS) Double Decker (DD) Express, my excitement was multiple times the excitement I face when a train trip beckons.

Trip Facts
Date: 1 May 2013 PNR: 4350912049 Seats: C2 69 and 70 Middle Deck.
Here we go with the itemized impressions of the trip.

Seating
Seating looks to be a big issue – the leg room leaves a lot to be desired. There could be one row less in each of the four seating areas. This space can be equally redistributed to provide a wee bit of extra legroom. The seats do not have a comfortable pushback levels. A bit more reclining would be of immense help, given that these are all-day trains with a maximum travel time of about eight hours.

Air-conditioning
One of the positives of the coach – but surprisingly not for about 12 people in every coach. But for these 12 passengers, air-conditioning is really class, at least in the first few days of operation. Just hope it remains like that.

The middle deck area that has seat numbers 59 through 70 is always warm, no matter what the temperatures are set to in the air-conditioner. More so for the first row, seats 66 through 70. The entry into the seating area is by way of sliding door that opens right into the face of these five unfortunate souls. The warm air blast each time someone enters or exits the seating area makes the air-conditioning look very silly indeed. And, over a period of this six-hour journey from SBC, this slider would have been used a couple of thousand times. The pantry staff strutting their wares, passengers going out of the seating area to the wash basin, toilets, or just taking a walk, etc. were all factors contributing to keep us hot on a hot sunny afternoon.

Toilets
The worst one can ever face in an air-conditioned train. I am sure there was no cleaning, or at least no cleaning worth the name that was done at SBC, where the train halts for 70 minutes before starting the return trip. There was a huge poodle of water in EACH of the four toilets that our compartment had. Though we don’t really expect in other long-distance trains, there was no soap in the dispensers. The ‘Press for Flush’ button is a joke in at least a few toilets – you would probably need a few people to push with all their might to have the toilet flushed.
Which brings us to another problem – the space. It is very difficult for one to enter and close the door and get to doing things. You have to be a contortionist and get yourself into some tangle to get the door close without hurting yourself of wetting yourself with all the water that is splashed on the wash basin’s exterior. And repeat the whole thing in reverse if you ever want to get out of there.

I wonder what can be achieved by nicking an mm here, a cm there, and making room for more passengers, rather than making passengers comfortable – and this applies to the seats and toilets.

Catering
Catering on trains has dipped to such a low that it is now blasphemy to expect a good cup of coffee or a good snack on even a premium train like the Rajdhani or the Duronto. Having said that, hope springs eternal in us and that was shattered. The cross section of people I spoke to regretted having bought something to eat from the catering staff. From what I saw, the vadas, samosas, bajjis, and all such snacks were, for a major part, served without ANY accompaniment. Some people, though, were lucky to get some chutney as an accompaniment. I do not know where the food was loaded, but the samosas looked very sad even at 1450, when they were first brought out – belying the looks that they were the ones loaded before the train left MAS. The stuff on the Kovai Express (though I criticized that as well, being a foodie!) was a gourmet’s delight in comparison. You would be better off fasting the six hours (even giving up on coffee/tea/cool drinks) or carrying food from home or some other hotel.

However, at the risk of offering a suggestion to IR to increase their revenues further, I suggest that the heating and cooling equipment for food be removed forthwith and the space used for a few more seats. Because, during the entire trip, not once did I see a bottle of cold water or any drink being sold cold – same for the food like samosas, vada, etc. – not once did I see them hot.

Intruders
This train is well and truly popular, going by the number of free-tripping railway staff not on duty travelling near the doors and keeping them open and causing inconvenience to the fare-paying public. I counted at least a score of people, all displaying the worker’s unions’ names prominently standing near the doors, loudly chatting away and frequently opening the doors causing heat waves! What took the cake was the TTE confessing to being helpless – in fact, he was ‘requesting’ (no actually groveling) a couple of IR staff not to disturb the passengers but to stand silently near the doors. Was wondering how the same TTE treated a passenger holding an open ticket from Krishnarajapuram to Kuppam – he was an illiterate guy who boarded this train by mistake – by using choicest four-letter words and ousting him at Bangarpet. To embellish things and heighten security for us, there was even an off-duty RPF cop with his family (no on-duty security staff in uniform was found on the train).

All this train needs is a few more halts like Tiruvallur, Walajah Road, Kuppam and the like – this will then be well and truly sold for free to the free-trippers, leaving the fare-paying passengers in the lurch. Some delight this for IR – going by the fate of Brindavan Express, Lal Bagh Express, and most other daytime inter-city expresses.

Endgame
What is my take away from this? Well, with high hopes I boarded the train; with a lot of disappointment I exited at Perambur. I would still rather prefer the Brindavan Fast Passenger’s AC Chair Car to take me to SBC or from there back to my home – old is, after all, gold. But, in what seems to be a paranoid move to ensure that the DD does not fail, the Brindavan has been hacked of two of it three AC coaches. Sad to see IR resorting to such moves. This also proves another adage true – all that glitters is not gold. The DD, sadly, only glitters.

So, what has the title got to do with this story of a train? A lot, in fact. A curate’s egg is something that is good in parts, don’t bother about the shell. In the DD, it is only the shell that is beautiful, not a bit of the egg inside.

PS: I will still keep up my commitment to travel on this train with fellow railfans as a large group on one of the weekends.






3 Comments:

Blogger Shubhranshu said...

A very beautiful write up, Sridhar! I am glad someone has pointed out the flaws. So far I had only seen people going overboard (pun intended) praising the DD. I will bring the realities to the notice of the concerned officials in the Railway Board and the designers in RDSO and RCF. Thanks for pointing out the warts, again.
-Shubhranshu

07:08  
Blogger Anil Kumar Yerrapragada said...

363 days between posts for a writer of your caliber is just too long sir!
Anyway, as far as AC travel is concerned, in my book, the Shatabdi is the best any day between these two cities. Though I have to admit I am quite disappointed that DD is so lacklustre.

22:33  
Blogger Soni Hari said...

Do they give food because they take more money from us. Or do we have to buy. Shatpthi provides food while travelling and the fare of double decker is equivalent to shatpthi.

18:54  

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