It's not a hidden fact that the Indian Railways is one of the largest railway networks in the world, with tracks covering more than 1,00,000km. Today, the Indian Railways employ around 14 lakh people. And being such a widely used service, it automatically becomes one of the most criticised in India.
After the swearing in of Suresh Prabhakar Prabhu as the Railway Minister last year, the railways has fortunately got some good PR. He made some swift and effective changes in a short span of time resulting in many people putting their faith in the brand again. There is still a long way to go, though, and with 2017 right around the corner, here are 10 changes we wish to see in the Indian Railways next year:
1. Better food
Well, it all comes down to this at the end of the day, isn't it? The journey might have been top class, the service might have been exemplary, but if the food wasn't good enough, nothing else makes sense anymore. Indian Railway food is infamous of its below par, sometimes plain bad meals. Barring the Rajdhanis and the Shatabdis, there is major improvement waiting to happen in all other public trains.
2. More cleanliness
For once, I can survive without having tasty food on my journey, but I definitely can't go on if my train coach stinks. Cleanliness is another thing that our railways are accused of turning a blind eye towards most of the time. Hygiene in general coaches is a big issue, hence requires attention right away.
3. Safety – outside and inside
Every now and then, we hear about train derailments. Understandably, it is difficult to keep a check on all routes with such high frequencies of trains leaving from and coming to every platform, but better networking is definitely required to prevent crashes. Also, more security is desired inside the railway compartments to make travelling safer for women and foreigners.
The bane of all our previous railway ministers, railway booking online has proved to be a tough nut to crack even with the increased server capacity. The IRCTC website continues to portray inconsistent behaviour with making tatkal bookings being almost impossible on the web. Railway booking, IRCTC PNR status, Indian Railway time table, IRCTC train enquiry, IRCTC seat availability, and IRCTC tatkal – all these features require immediate attention.
5. More General coaches
Although I do understand that the Indian Railways is in a substantial financial deficit currently, the plight of the people that travel in General coaches is deplorable. Maybe it is time to add some more general coaches on the busier routes of the country in order to ensure that human lives are given the respect they deserve. In fact, adding more General coaches will partially solve another major issue, which I will discuss in the point below.
6. Stricter segregation laws between Reserved and General coaches
Time and again, I have had to make do with one-third of my reserved seat because I was forced to share it with people, who merely forced their way into Reserved compartments because the General ones just couldn't accommodate more people. This jeopardises security and the rights of the citizens that pay more for their seats. In fact, on many routes people with General tickets (or no tickets at all) have become so disrespectful of the law that they would never enter a General coach at all, even when it has sufficient space.
7. More trains on the busiest routes
For how many years have you tried to book a ticket to go home on Diwali, and failed? I presume the answer could be "all my life". Having personally done my grad and post grad from Pune, I always had to go back home to Delhi for my winter/summer/festival holidays, but 9 times out of 10 I could never manage a reserved ticket. Routes such as Delhi-Mumbai- Delhi, Delhi-Pune-Delhi, Delhi-Chennai-Delhi, and so many more are busy all year long and hence could do with the addition of more trains.
8. The curious case of the Garib Rath Express
It was supposed to be a masterstroke from our then Railway Minister – Lalu Prasad Yadav – but the initial applauds have increasingly been silenced in the last ten years. Garib Rath Express, a low-fare A/C train, plies on various routes all across the country, but its condition (and reputation) has only worsened and stooped to the level of normal passenger trains in India. The sub-brand desperately needs a facelift in terms of cleanliness and maintenance in order to get the positive word-of-mouth going again.
9. Improved connectivity for towns
The irony is that I spoke about some destinations needing more trains to keep the balance in the demand-supply equation; many places, on the other hand do not even have a single train visiting them on most days of the week. It is time for the Central Government to iron out its differences with the State Governments in order to hydrate more areas with railway networks. Because every area with a train network experiences better economic conditions than before. Hence, it becomes a matter of national attention that more connectivity must be achieved.
10. Redistribution of surplus staff
In the beginning I'd acknowledged the fact that Indian Railways is the world's 7th largest employer. This obviously creates some major loopholes in the organisation in terms of efficiency of employees. Our railway network employs so much surplus staff that it would be incredible what can be achieved if a proper redistribution is done from scratch. This will do away with all the problems listed above in this article. Of course, it requires an intervention of godly proportions, but it's only a matter of time before the bubble bursts.
Have you ever experienced any problem while traveling in an Indian train? Do you have more suggestions? Write them down in the comments section below.