The Train Experience
Travelling is fun and I would love to travel as much as possible. A train ride is always interesting, though I don’t get to experience train rides often. Most of our short holidays or getaways, are in the hills, or in places where train rides take a day or more, or abroad where flying is the only option.
It’s wonderful to note that Railway Stations are not as frightening as they used to be. The Delhi stations look clean and the electronic sign boards work. Traffic is streamlined and security is stepped up too. Small and symmetrical numbered kiosks are found on each platform. Other cities’ Railway Stations are perhaps pretty much the same as they were decades back in some areas. Leaking pipes here and there causing puddles, beggars on the platforms, are among other such distressing sights.
The train journeys have been pleasantly better than expectations. In one such journey the TT handed a rose each to all the passengers with a smile stuck on his face. A great service oriented gesture indeed.
In the last three years I have experienced seven train rides, or more appropriately three to and fro journeys, and one single sided journey. So I have sat once in a first class AC ( sleeper), twice in AC Chair car, once in First Class AC (sitting), once in a AC three tier and once in AC two tier. The seventh one was in the Himalayan toy train between Kalka and Simla, where there is a single class (wooden benches). In other words, I experienced six different classes of the Indian Railways.
All the seating arrangements were comfortable for the price charged, except for the toy train which had the most uncomfortable yesteryear seats, which flatten the hips and force one to walk awkwardly for some time at least.
Another delightful experience is the bedding provided. Beddings are clean and comfortable. The sheets are as white as possible and in each journey one gets crisp washed and pressed cotton sheets in sealed paper bags.The pillow covers are not part of the sealed sheet package so its wise to doubt its reuse. Blankets too are sealed and washed. The berths have charging points and water bottle and book holders. Mostly the train floor is visibly clean if you are boarding from the starting point.
The food served by Indian Railways is average. It’s wonderful to get water and nimbu paani/ tea but the main course is not of very good quality. While hygiene may not be suspect, the cutlery and trays on which the food is served is usually washed in the train itself,near the toilets where there is very little space for washing and drying. Usually washing liquid is not visible either.
The Bane of Indian Railways: Toilets
The worst part of the train and station experiences though are the toilets, or rather, lack of safe and sanitized toilets. With so much being spent on the Swachh Bharat campaign its a pity that trains, which carry lakhs of passengers daily, do not have modern toilets. How can we live in a country where we boast of the largest rail network World wide, but have the worst toilet system in the world? As soon as one enters a train station, whether in Delhi or any other city in the country, one is welcomed by a strong stench. All railway lines are open toilets for trains and that’s a shame we cannot ignore or pretend doesn’t exist. While bogeys are clean and neat, one has to think many times over before entering the toilets of a moving train. The wash basins are coated with layers of grime. Just outside the dirty toilets in a train trash is visible in heaps. Trays and cutlery are being washed in the same area.
Onus on Whom?
I wonder why it is not incumbent on the Government, or the Railway Ministry, or any other Ministry in charge of infrastructure or urban and rural development to see that we have modern toilets on trains and that India is not one big open defecation area promoted by the government itself. Let’s stop this hypocrisy of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan by spending crores on advertisements, and do the very same thing that people are being advised not to. Modernize the toilets please ! They are adding to the filth and health of travelers and others living not only in and around the railway tracks, but in the whole country. Diarrhea, dysentery, diphtheria, Jaundice and all kinds of influenza probably stem from the rail network in India.
Action at last !!
As I had recently ( this week ) traveled by train, I decided to write my experience and anguish as above. As I finished writing, I found an article published by Livemint excerpts of which are :
“According to estimates by RITES, an engineering consultancy, Indian Railways generates 6000 tonnes solid waste from trains and passengers at railway stations every day, out of which about 4,000 tonnes of human waste is dumped directly onto the rail tracks.
In 2014, Indian Railways in collaboration with Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) developed a bio-toilet. Flushing a bio-toilet discharges human waste into an underfloor holding tank where anaerobic bacteria remove harmful pathogens and break the waste down into neutral water and methane. These harmless by-products can then be safely discharged onto the tracks without causing corrosion or foul odors. A stainless steel bio-toilet set with six chambers costs around Rs.90,000.
Indian Railways, which consumes 1000 million litres per day (MLD), is also planning to increase its water-recycling capacity from 12 MLD to 200 MLD in the next five years”, Railway Board member Kumar added.
Railways environment adviser K. Swaminathan said “water recycling will be a key features of railways’ environmental sustainability effort. Around 40 water recycling plants are being constructed and commissioned. He added that Indian Railways has already conducted water audit at 85 locations in 2015-16.”
And life …goes on with hope !!