Railway passengers often complain about smelly blankets and dirty bedsheets provided in air-conditioned coaches, but they are not too happy with the alternative either, which is new bedding for which they have to pay.
Data shows that Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation’s (IRCTC) e-bedroll offering has found few takers. Across seven stations — Chennai Central, Trivandrum Central, New Delhi, Hazrat Nizamuddin, Bangalore City, Mumbai Central and Mumbai CSTM — where the takeaway service is available, an average of only 20 bedrolls in total are booked per day. The number till recently was as low as seven-eight bookings per day despite the service being available for over two years now. “We have looked at the data and average sale till recently was not more than one set per day on each station. Recently, the number has increased to 20 per day across stations,” said a railway official.
The official added that restricted availability of the service at only a few stations is due to logistical requirements.
Indian Railways (IR) arm IRCTC provides two variants of the takeaway bedrolls. The first comprises two bedsheets and a pillow for Rs 140, and the second includes a travel blanket for Rs 140. Passengers with confirmed tickets bought through any mode — online or counter sales — can log on to IRCTC’s website and book a bedroll in advance. The advance booking window for bedrolls opens 60 days prior to the journey date and remains open five hours before the start of the journey.
Officials believe one reason for the service not taking off is the low quality of the bedrolls. This is perhaps the reason that IR, which was toying with the idea of emulating the service, has still not launched the offering.
The transporter was looking to source pure cotton bed kits from the Khadi and Village Industries Commission (KVIC) and offer them to passengers travelling in its air-conditioned sleeper coaches at a nominal Rs 250 per kit.
The kits were to comprise a towel, a single sheet, a double sheet and a pillow cover that passengers could take home after the journey. The concept of takeaway bed kits and sourcing these from KVIC was mooted by railway minister Piyush Goyal during a meeting in October 2017.
Meanwhile, IR is putting in efforts to improve the quality of blankets provided on trains.
“Earlier the washing cycle (for blankets) was once in two months, which has been increased to at least once a month.
Eventually, it will be once in a fortnight. However, the latter plan will require more logistically efficiency as blankets are heavy to handle,” said the railway official.