What’s the most prestigious train run by Indian Railways (IR)? In all probability, you will pick Rajdhani or Shatabdi, probably the former, unless you go off on a Palace on Wheels tangent. Rajdhanis have been around for a long time, 1969 to be precise. They are nearing the vanaprastha age. But barring Shatabdi, they are still the most prestigious.
They are also among the fastest, though technically, Bhopal Shatabdi touches the highest maximum speed. There are 22 Rajdhani trains now, 44 if you count “up” and “down” separately. Though Rajdhani trains are prestigious and get preference over other trains, all of them aren’t treated the same way. All Rajdhani trains are equal, but some Rajdhani trains are ‘more equal’ than others. With many cities wanting Rajdhanis, a Dibrugarh Rajdhani won’t get the treatment a Mumbai Rajdhani does. As everyone knows, travel on Rajdhani can be by AC-I, AC-2 tier or AC-3 tier. In addition to these types of coaches, a typical Rajdhani rake will have 1 (or 2) pantry car and 2 generator units.
An AC-I passenger will be served food cooked in the pantry car. But that pantry car won’t be used to cook food for AC-2 tier or AC-3 tier passengers. Their food will be pre-cooked and heated in the pantry car. This may change in the future, but that’s the way it is now, though food is not necessarily supplied departmentally, or even by IRCTC. It is contracted out.
Food costs are included in ticket costs. With 1 evening tea, 1 dinner, 1 morning tea and 1 breakfast thrown in, whoever is providing the meal service is roughly paid R260 per passenger (for AC-2 tier/AC 3-tier). When complaining about quality, it is worth remembering that price. Look up any description of a Rajdhani pantry car and it will talk of hot-cases. A hot-case is a deliciously Indian (or South Asian) expression. A hot-case doesn’t heat food. It keeps hot food warm. (Sometimes Rajdhanis have 2 pantry cars, one for AC-I and one for AC-2 tier and AC-3 tier. My focus is on AC-2 tier and AC-3 tier.) The pantry car won’t have a microwave oven. A microwave oven actually heats food. For AC-2 tier or AC-3 tier, food isn’t cooked on the train. It is cooked in a base kitchen, sometimes at the originating point, sometimes at a halt en route. By the time pre-cooked food is brought to the train, it is lukewarm, quite apart from possibilities of it going bad.
If hot-cases are replaced with microwave ovens and food is served on Styrofoam utensils, passengers can get hot food. In addition, given lower wattage on microwave ovens compared to hot-cases, with the same 2 generator units, each Rajdhani can get the equivalent of one additional passenger coach. Given shortages, isn’t that a good idea? Despite the Rajdhanis nearing vanaprastha, why has IR not thought of this? (No, IR didn’t anticipate the Liebeck versus McDonald’s hot coffee lawsuit.) Someone in IR did think of this, some 15 years ago. Glossing over gory details, what transpired was the following. There was departmental wrangling between those who looked after electrical and those who looked after utensils, those who looked after procurement and those who looked after catering contracts. Anyone who knows about IR knows these silos. In any event, at higher levels, people who were to take decisions were due to retire. Why cause problems when I have less than a year to go? How do you decide which microwave oven supplier to choose? There will be vigilance enquiries. Why take risks? Forget it. The hot-cases continued, even today, though prices of microwave ovens have crashed since then.
Most people who work in IR are engineers. They know about Newton’s laws of motion, especially the first law, on inertia. How many coaches does a Rajdhani rake have? I am not talking about future EMU rakes, but present ones. Excluding pantry cars and generating cars, around 16 coaches. Most major platforms can now handle 24 coaches. Given shortages, why can’t an average Rajdhani have 24 coaches? There is a standard answer. Those two EOGs (end on generator) cars can’t handle it. Each of those EOGs has two diesel generating sets. Each of these generating sets can handle at least 6 coaches on its own. Why can’t 24 coaches be run then? Because EOGs run at 67% capacity utilisation, so that there is adequate back-up. One can understand back-up for unforeseen contingencies in extreme weather conditions. Next time you hear that stock answer about limitations of EOGs, ask how August Kranti Rajdhani can handle a rake of 18 coaches, excluding 2 pantry cars and 2 EOGs. Excluding 2 pantry cars, with existing rolling stock, a Rajdhani can handle 22 coaches. There are some very minor engineering issues that need sorting out. As with the microwave oven, a 22-coach Rajdhani rake idea has been floating around within IR for some time. However, Newton’s first law of motion took over. Or perhaps, the third law, since convincing reasons were concocted to argue why something couldn’t be done. Rarely does one devise means to get something done. You will understand the allusion to the William Hogarth paintings.
The author is full-time member, NITI Aayog. Views are personal