Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Railways, no change

From the time I was a kid, trains have been a part of our travel plans. Of course, air travel at that time was unthinkable from a cost perspective and buses were pretty bad as were the roads. Today air travel is affordable, more or less and buses have leapt in quality. Funnily enough, our roads are still terrible (which are mostly government controlled), but the buses and cars (over which the government has no control) have improved. The airports (mostly government with some exceptions coming up) have remained terrible, the airlines (ha) have got better. 


The railways in the meantime, have remained terrible. Average speeds have not gone up yet. 30 years of no change! Imagine that. We use more powerful locos to run trains slowly - of course the length of the trains keep on increasing. Amazing isnt it? For this speed, the railways could very well have continued to use steam locos.  Lalu Prasad or not, somehow the railways need to get better for passengers. 

Take the food served. Somehow, in a train journey over the past 10 years or so, I buy less and less from any vendor who is selling food. Somehow the tolerance of mostly watery tea and mostly tasteless food has gone. I prefer to carry my own food - I myself never imagined that I would be carrying my own food, even if it is prepacked. Every once in a while I have tried the food, once or twice I have been surprised, but other than that it has been a painfully predictable experience of contracted monopolies trying to maximize their revenue at the cost of the customers. Prices have gone up, but not quality. 

What I like about the railways is the online ticket booking service. Perhaps the greatest innovation in Indian railway history especially considering they treat their tracks secondarily as toilet dispensers.

Yes, so much can be changed. The railway platforms can be so much better in terms of their cleanliness. The trains could be so much better, faster instead of focusing only on lower fares. And they come up with the hare brained idea of having 3 side berths. In the last 20 or 30 odd years train speeds have barely gone up, if at all. Buses are overtaking trains; that was not true until some years back.

Perhaps the railways need to think about their passengers as customers, not as aam janta or vegetables.

No comments: