As I write this, the new Modi government is presenting it’s first Railway budget. As someone who loves travelling by train,and someone has traveled extensively by train across the world, I am looking forward to the budget. Having said that, I am also aware of the millions of complications that a complex, diverse, developing country has, and that one budget is really not going to be the answer.
Still, here’s my wish list for the Indian Railways:
Whether it’s stations, trains, or even railway tracks, we can’t deny the fact that the one thing seriously lacking is cleanliness. Oh, I know, things are much better than they were before, but we all know that there’s scope for so much better. And it’s not so difficult to enforce. Here are a few suggestions that could work.
a. Keep dustbins all over the place – much more than what we have now. Most people don’t have a life ambition of littering; it’s difficult for me to believe that people will litter if they have a dustbin right in front of them.
b. Fine offenders – This is very important. When simple instructions won’t work work, maybe threats will! So we do fine people for entering the station without platform tickets, or travelling without the right ticket, maybe we can extend it to include people who spit or litter. 100 bucks every time you see someone leave their trash behind! The fines can be used to pay for the staff who does this diligent duty. As money conscious as we are, maybe this is the how we will become hygiene-conscious; hit people where it really hurts – their pockets.
c. Cameras – Maybe it’s high time we use technology? Use camera to detect the offenders and fine them! Again, use the fines
for the maintenance of the cameras.
d. Technology – Make way for new technology. Whether it is buying high-tech equipment for cleaning stations/trains, or having trains with bio-loos, it’s time we start at different options. Yes, I know, it costs more, but we would have to start some time, right? Besides, I would rather choose a train with a super clean loo, rather than a bullet train. (We can have both, but that’s a different discussion)
2. Good connections
One of things I love about trains abroad is how well their connections work! I could choose to travel from the mountains in Slovakia to the city of Prague, and while there’s one only direct train, I could choose different options with multiple connections. I could just enter the starting point, and the end point of my journey in the railway website, and I would be given information on the different connections, along with the exact time when the transfers would take, what kind of trains would be available, and how much I would need to pay. What more do you need? This is something I would like duplicated in Indian trains. Ours is a really large country, and while our railway is the largest rail network in the world, there’s a whole lot of mystery in the ticketing system. Time we let go of the intrigue! 🙂 This of course, requires a whole re-vamp of the system, where we allow multiple ticketing, and of course, trains that are never late!
3. Rail passes
So we do have season’s passes for suburban trains, and that’s great. We also have rail passes for international tourists. But considering that we have more domestic tourists using railways, maybe we should have domestic rail passes as well! Okay, I know it’s difficult to enforce, because our trains are never empty, but …I am sure if we thought a bit more about it, we could find a way 🙂
4. Trains with big windows
Okay, so I admit that this is a personal quirk of mine, but I love trains and buses with big windows. Our is a country with such diverse and interesting scenery; it would be really nice to watch it through big clean glass windows. If not for the urban areas, maybe we can have special trains in forests, or mountains – our own Alpine express, or even tropical Rainforest express? Why not?
5. More trains
Well this is an easy one right? We are a heavily populated country – we really need more trains. Both suburban trains, as well as long distance trains. Yes, it’s a good postcard to see a mass of people leaning over in suburban trains in Mumbai, but actually quite dangerous. Similarly, in a country as large as ours, and where people often re-locate in search of jobs, we do need more long-distance trains as well. I need to travel home to Kerala for onam, and it’s always so tough to get tickets. It shouldn’t be.
6. Faster, fancier trains
Yes, I do know that it might be a luxury, and quite un-affordable for the average Indian traveler. But I also have to admit that every time I travel in a really nice train abroad, I love it. I love it, and I long for the day, when I could travel with the same comfort and luxury in India. Yes, I don’t have the answers for how to manage this. How do we ensure that we afford this, without making it tougher on the tax-payer, or the small time traveler? Keep the ticket rates exorbitant, so that the only the rich or the upper middle class travel in them? But that would divide a country that’s already so divided in so many other ways. Think of it – as of now, the railways is the one place in India, where everybody, everybody from the poor to the middle class to the rich – travels (of course with varying degrees of comfort). Make it exclusive, and we again divide ourselves again. Not sure if that’s the way to go, but again, will we keep ourselves in the dark ages, waiting for a miracle to bring about easy technological change? I don’t have the answer.
Yes, I know that this is a huge wish-list, but I also have to say that I love travelling by train in India as well. And, no, I am not romanticizing the experience. There are the challenges, but it’s also a whole experience as well – the scenery, the food, the noise, the conversations with strangers, the stories that happen in both stations as well as trains. It’s like a throbbing world of it’s own – tough, challenging, annoying too, but always buzzing with excitement.
What’s your wish list for the Indian Railways?