According to latest reports, Railway Minister Piyush Goyal has asked the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) to come up with a plan to attach fully air-conditioned pantry cars to every train. The AC pantries will have induction cooking systems and will ensure hygienic cooking environment. As of now, only Mumbai's Rajdhani Express has that facility.
A survey in 2015 had revealed the deplorable condition of pantry cars. These pantry cars are equipped with LPG cylinders, raising the stake of fire hazards on trains.
The Ministry of Railways has been gradually changing the face of Indian trains.
Operation Swarn: To begin with, under the Railways' Operation Swarn several Rajdhani and Shatabdi expresses will be improved at the cost of Rs 50 lakh per train. Railways will upgrade these trains across several parameters from cleanliness, punctuality to service. Many of these trains have already been refurbished. By the end of September, 14 Rajdhanis and 15 Shatabdis would be all new and shiny.
New couplers: Another redo that Rajdhani and Shatabdis are undergoing is new coupler systems that will ensure smoother rides. Couplers are devices that connect coaches. According to a report in the Financial Express, the new couplers will be equipped with balanced draft gear that have high-capacity shock absorbers, which will reduce the amount of jerks experienced on trains. By the end of October, all Rajdhani and Shatabdis will have new couplers, while by the end of December all premium trains across the country will be installed with new couplers.
Clean toilets: Another pertinent issue that the railways has picked up is cleanliness of toilets. Train toilets have been the subject of ridicule, complaints and consternation equally. Now, the railways is looking to install bio-vacuum toilets, similar to the ones on aircraft. These toilets will not only have more efficient flushing but will also reduce foul odour. Around 500 AC coaches have been identified for the installation of the same, with Rajdhani and Shatabdi being the priority. There will also be odour-control systems attached to the flush that will release a pleasant smell once the toilet is flushed.
Railways catering: A lot of changes are being made in catering and packaging of food served on trains. Facing a lot of complaints regarding the food served on trains, IRCTC has decided to rework the menu. With the Centre slashing GST rates, prices of meals served on trains have also taken a dip. Food served to passengers by IRCTC has been made cheaper by Rs 3 to Rs 10. Catering charges on premium trains were also cut by Rs 40 to Rs 60 depending on the class of travel. The change in pricing has also altered ticket fares in premium trains that include 18% GST on catering charges. Additionally, trains that have pantries such as Rajdhani Express and Duronto Express will now have an IRCTC manager to address food related complaints such as substandard quality or overcharging.
Indian Railways is now stressing on quality over quantity, which means some of the popular items might be taken off the plate. The IRCTC has drawn up a proposal to remove popular items like soup, breadsticks, butter and sandwiches off the platter. Removing these items will free up 150 g in terms of weight from each plate. Moreover, passengers may be offered vegetarian or non-vegetarian rice combos instead of full meals. This change will first reflect on premium trains like Rajdhani and Shatabdi.
IRCTC is also planning to roll out eco-friendly food packaging on 8 select Rajdhani and Shatabdi trains from New Delhi. Passengers on these trains would be served meals on eco-friendly disposable plates instead of the polymer ones. Railways' green initiative is replacing these polymer utensils with bagasse-based ones.
Also, in their attempt to keep unauthorised vendors in check, the Railway Board is planning IRCTC-authorised food stalls at railway stations. Moreover, Piyush Goyal has also instructed IRCTC to run a live feed of all its base kitchens that supply food for trains. Contractors will also need to have PoS machines to issue receipts to avoid complaints of overcharging.
(Edited by Anwesha Madhukalya)