Bombay to Goa

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

With screens fitted in front of every seat, sun control film on windows, catering staff in clean uniforms and other appealing services and features, the few weeks’ old Tejas Express is worth taking a ride

The announcement at Panvel railway station said that the Tejas Express to Goa was running 20 minutes late. When the train finally rolled onto platform number seven of the station, the sight was, to say the least, majestic. A second announcement warned passengers that the doors of the train opened and closed automatically. This, I thought, was important safety information for Indian travellers, used to boarding running trains, and hanging from footboards.

No sooner did the train leave Panvel than breakfast was served: the customary bread-butter-cutlets for vegetarians, and omelettes for non-vegetarians, followed by coffee and tea. We were also given complimentary newspaper copies to read.

The highlight of the train, of course, was that like some aeroplanes, screens were fitted in front of every seat. These offered a choice of movies in English, Hindi and Marathi, including old Hindi films. However, instead of swanky headphones, what passengers were given were cheap earphones. This, I was told, was to teach them a lesson for vandalising costly equipment during the train’s maiden run last month. The much touted wi-fi connectivity was also absent in the compartments. No one was able to tell us why.

Since the Tejas Express is still new, its all-yellow European-design cars with large windows look awesome. But for how long, I asked myself? It’s paper that is pasted on the exterior of the cars, not paint. This will soon rip off on account of the vagaries of the weather — the Konkan monsoons are legion — and the destructive tendencies of Indian passengers, for whom a thing of beauty certainly isn’t a joy forever.

The Duronto Express trains, started with much fanfare by the indomitable Mamata Banerjee, are a case in point. Today, most Duronto Express cars look shabby from the outside. What’s more, the railways are not even able to maintain the colour scheme of the trains. An average Duronto Express train has a mixture of Duronto and Rajdhani Express bogies. This gives the trains a disappointingly hybridised appearance. Such things would never happen in Europe or Japan. So how long the Tejas Express would retain its purity is anybody’s guess.

Again, the sun control film stuck on the windows of the cars, being new, makes it possible for passengers to enjoy an unrestricted view of the resplendent Konkan countryside. (It is another matter, though, that most passengers were so immersed in their screens that they hardly bothered about the countryside). After a few months, however, the windows are likely to turn opaque due to low quality sun control film and poor maintenance. Indian trains are notorious for not allowing passengers in air-conditioned compartments to savour the landscape, thanks to their windows, which are at times completely opaque. I have a suggestion for the railway ministry: a passenger who gets a seat by a bad window should be refunded at least half the fare.

Another welcome thing about the Tejas Express, since it is new, is that the catering staff have clean uniforms. This isn’t the case in most other trains, where the uniforms of the waiters emanate a foul odour every time they pass by. Give the Tejas six months, and I can bet that the uniforms of the waiters will begin to stink.

A news item that I saw on an English news channel said that the Tejas Express was India’s fastest train. Really? But is it possible to run the country’s fastest train on a single line route? As far as I know, the fastest train in India that runs at 160 km per hour is the New Delhi-Bhopal Shatabdi Express. But that train runs on the double line Mumbai-Delhi route. Even so, on the day I travelled on the Tejas Express, it covered the nearly 700 km distance between Panvel and Karmali (Goa) in six-and-a-half hours flat, arriving at its destination 30 minutes before schedule, in spite of an unscheduled halt at Chiplun. This, undoubtedly, is a record of sorts. It was achieved because the Tejas Express is hauled by two engines. More significantly, the train was able to break records, because it has become a prestige issue for the government, what with the media hype it has received. Thus, I saw a large number of other Express trains halted at sidings to let the Tejas Express pass. After all, the Tejas Express is a Brahmin among trains.

But alas, this record run is shortlived. Beginning June 10, the Tejas Express, like all other Konkan Railway trains, will take two hours longer to reach its destination. This is because of the heavy rains that compel Konkan railway trains to slow down till the end of monsoon. For the information of train enthusiasts, there are two other Tejas Express trains in India — one between New Delhi and Chandigarh, and the other between Lucknow and Anand Vihar.

In spite of its teething problems, I would strongly recommend a journey by the Mumbai-Goa Tejas Express. Even though its executive class fare is Rs 2,500, while an Indigo or Spice Jet air ticket from Goa to Bombay after 16 June can be had for a little over Rs 3,000.   

On a scale of one to ten, I would give the Tejas Express eight-and-a-half marks.

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