Posts Tagged ‘railways’

How food is cooked on a massive scale

March 28, 2017

Having seen for myself the deteriorating quality of food on trains on the Indian Railways, I watched this interesting documentary on IRCTC:

It’s rather long, watch only if you have the inclination and the time!

I couldn’t believe all the good food being prepared…why, I thought, do I never see phulkas or salads, even on the Rajdhani? And halfway through the film, the answer appeared. In response to complaints about the quality of food, the catering was take away from IRCTC itself (who then started concentrating on the corporate sector) and given to independent contractors who, I feel, are definitely running the catering service into the ground now. The video is still worth watching (as are several on how temple kitchens function) for the scale of food preparation.

Here’s one that’s also fascinating:

(Most temples in Karnataka provide food to the devotees who visit.)

The problems of travelling by Indian Railways

December 19, 2013

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Steam locomotive on display at Guwahati Station, 011213

The Indian Railways 

has is one of the largest railway networks in the world. (Click on the link above to get facts and figures.)

Given its size and unwieldiness, it’s a remarkable organization. The trains are on time for the most part, and earlier delays (up to 24 hours, sometimes!) have been nearly eliminated. When Lalu Prasad Yadav was the Railway Minister, he won laurels for “revamping” the Railways. (The ultimate recognition….it’s a case-study at Harvard.)

But alas…the revamping seems to have brought out the vamp in the organization, and the passenger trains, it seems to me, seem to have a lot of problems. I am listing them, as I see them, here….I do appreciate many things about the railways,but these are outstanding minuses that cannot be wished away.

Awful online booking website.

The IRCTC website 

continues to be one of the least user-friendly websites I have ever used. It’s amazing that to date, on this site, I cannot book return tickets, and have to book each journey separately. It’s so difficult to use that I totally avoid options like break of journey. Very often, it ,can take hours to book one’s tickets on the site, and this enables bad practices like the using of agents and touts to get one’s tickets booked.

Booking dates:

The Railways recently brought back the 60-days-in-advance rule for booking journeys (it used to be 90 days), and this is obviously essential, given the kind of corruption and underhand practices that sometimes marks the booking of rail tickets. It also results in people who are planning ahead, booking the tickets on the date that the booking opens, and sitting on the bookings until they decide whether or not they will travel, or travel by that train. This means that many genuine travellers get only RAC (Reservation Against Cancellation) or WL (Waiting List) tickets, and do not know until much later if their tickets will get confirmed…and they get very uncomfortable side berths, about which I will write more, later.

Passengers still cannot choose their berths, or seats on day trains. Senior citizens can request lower berths, but other passengers must be content with what they get. Lights may not work, nor fans; the attendant is usually nowhere to be found, and it’s impossible to exchange one’s berth after allocation.

Maintenance of bogies and railway tracks:

The maintenance of the passenger bogies leaves much to be desired. I am still regularly able to see mice and rats in the bogies. All the bogies of the Bangalore-Guwahati Express, which I took on the 19th of November, were dirty and old, and a terrible place in which to spend 3 nights and 2 days, on a 3000 km journey. Even the newer bogies are, unfortunately, of very bad design, with heavy, unwieldy doors, a lack of electrical outlets for many passengers (except the random lucky ones).

The spaces between bogies are rapidly becoming a litter-deposit area, and railway employees think nothing of throwing all the trash out on to the tracks. I am unable to see a responsible method of disposing trash on the many journeys that I make.

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(You can see the amount of trash on the tracks. Ahmedabad-Bangalore, 161213)

Air-conditioners in upper-class bogies may freeze the passengers, or let them swelter in an ill-ventilated space. To get the attendant to do something about the problem is tough, given their general invisibility (see below).

The windows, sealed in air-conditioned upper-class bogies, are usually very dirty, and on the Bangalore-Guwahati train, was impossible to see out of, creating a feeling of claustrophobia. On the journey from Ahmedabad to Bangalore, the window was dirty throughout the first day, and was cleaned at Hubli, at 7pm on the 2nd day. I have never otherwise seen the windows being cleaned during journeys. The lower class bogies have open windows, where the glass or steel shutters might be stuck, or come crashing down suddenly…and open windows expose the passengers to the filthy smell from the railway tracks.

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Sealed windows on the air-conditioned bogies

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My window on the Bangalore-Guwahati journey, 201113. (A/c 2-Tier coach)

Maintenance of toilets

The toilets, even on upper-class bogies, are an abomination. They still open directly on to the railway tracks. They are dirty, often without water, and the flushes just do not work properly, due to terribly bad design.

Attendants

Upper class bogies are supposed to have attendants in, well, attendance. But usually, they are nowhere to be found, after they hand out the bedding at the start of the journey and it’s impossible to get anything repaired or rectified.

Bedrolls and towels

Bedding (provided free in the upper class bogies) can often be damp from washing, torn, and frayed. Towels are supposed to be provided, too, but are usually not given. Sometimes, pestering the attendant, when he appears with the bedding, works.

Food

The food on the railways is under contract, and this is increasingly result in in a combination of awful food and beverages, and overcharging in the most blatant way. I just wrote a blogpost about the recent increase in food rates

here 

Food is a major issue on long journeys. Good food is just not available. I explored the internet sites of a few caterers, but they want a minimum order of Rs.1500 and are not interested in individual passenger orders. So passengers are still at the mercy of the contract vendors.

Lack of information about the running of the train

The lack of the attendant also means that most passengers do not get any information about whether the train is running on time, or not. Even trains which have display boards only have meaningless messages and advertisements running on the LED display, and no useful information about the next station or how long the train is doing to stop there. In the middle of the night, passengers do not even know which station the train has halted at. My train back from Ahmedabad (AII-Mysore Exp, no. 16209) was due in Bangalore at 3.15am…and I kept awake all night for fear of falling asleep and missing the station. And when there are multiple stations in a single city (eg, Krishna Raja Puram, Bangalore East, Cantonment, and City on the train mentioned above), one has to constantly go to the door, risking one’s luggage, to find out where one is.

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Shanties along the railway tracks, Guwahati-Bangalore, 031213.

Waiting list confirmations and side-berth issues

The side berths on the bogies are charged at the same rate as the regular berths, but are far less comfortable, and can often result in great difficulty for the passengers, as they are in the high-traffic area, and cannot get out of the way. The side berths are much shorter, and are allotted to passengers who have been confirmed after being on the waiting list. This is very unfair to passengers who have paid the same as those who are occupying the more comfortable berths. Sometimes senior citizens on the waiting list are allotted upper berths, and have great difficulty climbing up to sleep, especially if they have to visit the toilet once or twice at night.

Safety issues:

Theft of luggage and mobile phones seems to be very common on long-distance trains, and there is absolutely no way one can report theft, unless one is prepared to pull the chain and make everyone wait. My 82-year-old fellow passenger and I had our mobiles stolen in broad daylight when returning from Guwahati, and on the journey from Ahmedabad to Bangalore, another passenger had his mobile stolen. Most passengers just curse their luck and are helpless, as they discover the loss later, there is no attendant to complain to, and the Railway Police never make their appearance on the train.

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Travelling Ticket Examiner on train, 031213, Guwahati to Bangalore

Vendors:

An incredible array of vendors seem to frequent the aisles at all times on long journeys, and it is difficult to accept that their presence does not have the endorsement of the Travelling Ticket Examiner (TTE) or the attendant. Some of these vendors could also be opportunistic thieves.

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One of the many vendors on the trains, Guwahati-Bangalore, 211113

So…while the railways are very useful (and I must express deep appreciation for the fact that senior citizens get 40% off the train charges if male, and 50% if female…a discrimination I have never been able to figure out), it takes a lot of stamina and resolve to spend a couple of days on a train, and make the journey with Indian Railways. I do…and I think of myself as an intrepid traveller.

Train of thought…

November 14, 2013

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A train pulls in (I can’t say, “steams in”, any more!) One journey is over…and another, soon to begin. For a brief while, many unconnected people will share a small space together…some of them will strike up conversations, others will remain blissfully unaware of how may others are travelling with them.

Several agencies swing into action; the train is cleaned, the engine maintenance done, the catering supplies unloaded and loaded, connections between the carriages checked, and so the long list goes…before the announcement that this train is about to go out, once again, ferrying its load from one city to another….

Meetings happen, partings happen. Someone said that a station is one place where emotions can still be seen in the raw. Happiness, sadness, or even loss as someone discovers a missing wallet, mobile phone, or even luggage….

Trains and stations are bustling places…train travel is still magical to me.

The Wabash Railroad, Wildwood, Mo, 040813

August 5, 2013

We heard about the

The

Wabash Railroad

and decided that we’d go for the ride on Sunday.

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We found that it was a tiny railroad, with engines built to scale:

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Here’s a video of a t rain leaving:

DS cycled up and back, a matter of about 60 miles! This left a seat free in the car for our friend Karthik O.

Here’s the family:

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Here’s the yard:

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This notice on the water tower was hilarious…”not for human consumption”…but apparently, the trainmaster is not considered human!

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We went chugging past the limestone bluffs of the area:

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The tracks crisscrossed many walking and cycling trails. I loved this tandem bike with a provision for a young child!

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Here’s another locomotive, built to scale:

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There were lots of volunteers to man the railroad, here’s one being the guardsman:

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We were thrilled that the train ran through Mohan, Missouri!

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A filming crew was at work, and our train ride took a long time as we were held up.

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Mother and daughter whiled away the time:

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Here’s the video!

It’s not a loop, so the train had to go to the end point, have the engine de-coupled and reconnected, and then we were brought back:

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Here’s a ticket:

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Here’s a ticket-holder:

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The woodland was lovely:

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At the departure point, engines use the turntable:

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Here are the rules:

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FB album

click here

Going by train….

December 12, 2012

I am still young-at-heart enough (or foolish enough) to love a train journey.

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I love going over river bridges (this one is on the Godavari)

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I love stopping at stations…

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I enjoy looking at old stuff that’s still in use…

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The design of new stuff:

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I like speculating on the lives around the tracks…

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I still am thrilled when the train curves on the track, and look backwards and forwards at the other coaches:

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I like passing by temples lit up in the evening

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And the twilight…

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From October 23, when I became 58 years old, I have got a 50% off on tickets…and that’s a great boon for me!

Coming on a train journey with me? I’ll be only too happy to take you along!

“Retiring Rooms” of Indian Railways…and key words

September 27, 2012

I was looking for the amenities available to passenger in various Indian railway stations, and just could not find anything that told me what was available, especially in the way of staying at the station itself. I posted on FB, and promptly got a lot of excellent links from friends.

I had overlooked the key words….in India, stations have “Retiring Rooms” (where one can get tired all over again? On the contrary, many of them are well-maintained…and hardly used!)

So…I am giving here the link that I got from helpful friends…thanks, Sharbari Lahiri (from Canada!), Sridhar Parthasarathy, and Rama Warrier.

this one

and I hope it comes in handy for me one day soon!

Listen to the train’s rhythm…

September 26, 2012

is making a long railway journey (Mumbai to Delhi) and suddenly remembered one line of what I googled up…and found a lovely poem:

FROM A RAILWAY CARRIAGE

Faster than fairies, faster than witches,
Bridges and houses, hedges and ditches;
And charging along like troops in a battle
All through the meadows the horses and cattle:
All of the sights of the hill and the plain
Fly as thick as driving rain;
And ever again, in the wink of an eye,
Painted stations whistle by.
Here is a child who clambers and scrambles,
All by himself and gathering brambles;
Here is a tramp who stands and gazes;
And here is the green for stringing the daisies!
Here is a cart runaway in the road
Lumping along with man and load;
And here is a mill, and there is a river:
Each a glimpse and gone forever!

Robert Louis Stevenson

I love poems like this which follow the rhythm of their subject..I remember, vaguely, another such poem where the stanzas start with a small, brisk rhythm of words..and then, the words and the rhythm lengthen, as the train pulls tiredly into the station…I wish I could get this poem.

Disincentives…

January 18, 2012

sent me this:

Rail surfers (those who travel on top) have been threatened with paint, dogs and religion. Now Indonesia has strung concrete balls above the trains to bonk the overhead riders. Will that stop them ? No!! say the riders. They’ve resisted arrests successfully, as well as the other measures. They like the wind, rush and views up there, plus the free ride is nice!

Here in St. Louis, we would bonk people on the head with concrete balls to MAKE them ride the train!

click here to read about the Indonesian train problem

n the 1970’s in Calcutta (Kolkata), there used to be the “Sardarji” buses (private buses run by this community) as well as the Government buses. The Government buses lost money, and the private buses did well. Travelling outside the bus (in some cases, the passenger would be attached to another passenger and never touch the bus at all) was so common that the private buses had one conductor for inside, and another for outside, the buses! Maybe that’s the solution that Indonesia needs…!

Here’s a pic of the “Sardarji” buses, little tin boxes, that I got off the net:

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Hectic days…

January 20, 2009

On Thursday night we took the overnight train to Bellary, where Santosh Martin was to meet us….and that train, in many ways, is one of the reasons for my not being able to post anything yesterday, not even to upload photographs.

The second-class compartments of Indian Railways are quite uncomfortable to begin with; they are truly “second-class” or B-grade, as you wish to call them, with the middle berth being one where the passenger can neither sleep until the other two decide to call it a day, nor a place to sit when s/he gets up in the morning, until the lower berth passenger either gets up or gives the middle-berther a space.

And the two side-berths are also uncomfortable, with people walking past the passengers; but now, discomfort has hit a new high level, with a middle berth having been introduced in the side berths, too, which were, so far, only upper and lower. The introduction of the middle berth means that there are now three tiers, much shorter in length than the regular berths, and no one can possibly sleep comfortably in them.

I feel that Indian Railways is getting MORE customer-unfriendly instead of less; the side middle berth is truly a sadistic new invention. (The top berth is also so close to the curve of the bogie that it, too, is an instrument of torture.) I think they should give a 25% discount on those side berths, then it would be a bit more fair.

OK…will be uploading my photographs from Daroji and Hampi soon…..the return on the overnight Volvo bus was more comfortable, but I couldn’t sleep at all, and after spending the whole day on Sunday at the HSBC Bangalore Bird Race (we had a great and hilarious time, our bird of the day was the Bald Eagle!!) so Monday went in a haze of tiredness and unwillingness to do anything. Work and email have piled up and must be addressed….

And meanwhile there are interesting plays to go to, interesting films at the international film festival, and so on….

Have to catch up with my friends’ list, too. OOH, too much to do is always an uncomfortable situation for the founder-president of the Lazybones Society!

How many Metros have you travelled on?

October 29, 2008

anushsh sent me this:

http://metro.b3co.com/

And here are the Metros I have travelled on (alas, some of the cities, I *didn’t* take the Metro, or it hadn’t been built in the Year Dot when I visited…)

nice list and colourful logos