My 8-year-old son compels us to undertake any one leg of our vacation journey by train. Like Pranab Kumar Mukerjee, our-soon-to-be President, I too love rail travel and happily comply with my son's entreaties. We travelled I Class from Bangalore to Delhi. First class fares of the railways are comparable to air travel fares- the down side? One spends 33 hours longer!
Enroute I took a good look at myself- unshaven, unkempt and disheveled after a day on the train. My five year old daughter resolutely stated that she would visit the toilet only at Delhi, since the one on the train was filthy and unusable. The children sat gazing outside the window since there wasn't much that one could do on the train anyway.
Dr. Manmohan Singh, quoting Keynes has spoken about unleashing 'animal spirits' to get the economy going. John Maynard Keynes, the most influential economist of all times has an entire school of modern thought which bears his name. Many of his ideas were revolutionary; almost all were controversial. Keynesian economics serves as a sort of yardstick that can define virtually all economists who came after him. Animal Spirits is a term used by the John Maynard Keynes in one of his economics books, a 1936 publication, "The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money," the term "animal spirits" is used by him to describe human emotion that drives consumer confidence. Keynes had said "Most, probably, of our decisions to do something positive, the full consequences of which will be drawn out over many days to come, can only be taken as the result of animal spirits-a spontaneous urge to action rather than inaction, and not as the outcome of a weighted average of quantitative benefits multiplied by quantitative probabilities."
While nations like Japan, China, Switzerland and Germany boast the best railway systems in the world, the Indian Railways have a long way to catch up. In order to do so, the Indian Railways badly require the infusion of some animal spirits. If there was reform to carry out, it ought to begin with the Rajdhani, the premium train that showcases the Indian Railways. The present model is atleast 30 years behind its class and requires being re-built. The new train must have a large luggage compartment, with neatly divided sections where luggage can be neatly arranged. The passenger section must be minimalistic with comfortable seats which can be turned into beds. A central section with all toilets, and towards one end which must house an ayurvedic wellness spa and towards the other extreme end a reading room, internet facilities and a games centre. Its 36 hour journey deserves to be cut down to a more acceptable 24 hours.
Any service contractor will tell you that if all facilities were in the same location, the services are far better with a lot lesser personnel to man them. This applies squarely to the condition of toilets on Indian trains- if they were all together, the cleaner would do all of them well rather than attend to one and then to another a block away. This accounts for cleaner toilet blocks in large offices and airports. The first gripe of the Indian passenger against the Indian Railways can be solved in this manner.
The next is the one about the management of luggage- some carry a burden too large that neighbours have to lump it. In the absence of any working mechanism where passengers who carry excess load are charged for it, other passengers have to bear the brunt of it, unless the Railways decides to have a system of checking in the luggage, securing them and releasing them after the journey, like the airlines do. The passenger thus arrives at his seat only with his hand baggage that contain his essentials.
With clean toilets and bathing facilities- and plenty of time on hand, yoga lessons, medicinal massages, spa treatment, steam baths and the like, passenger wellness occupies centre stage. The rocking movements of the train will do wonders to relax the soul and mind. In the evening before one turns in, a hot towel to freshen up for dinner and for nightly rest.
It is pathetic to see coolies at railway stations, who in this state of advancement still carry extremely heavy weights on their heads. This indubitably damages their physical health and demeans the human spirit. The railways are blessed with large tracts of land, each station must be made trolley friendly and must, besides stairs make space for ramps that enable wheelchairs and trolleys to be moved around freely. Each railway station in a major city has been built over thirty years ago- they must be modified to help human beings earn their livelihood with dignity.
Railway stations are melting pots of humanity, passengers travel the length and breadth of India, each station must have restaurants of various cuisines. The Indian Railways have remained cost-effective, unlike their western counterparts where the cost of rail journey can be more expensive than air fares. Some additional measures like those suggested will help the Railways garner resources to maintain their cost-effective edge.
Squalor and filth around stations abound, the proliferation of these undesirable elements must be dealt with compassionately. If proper training is provided to persons who live around these stations, they can be a valuable human resource for the massive changes that the railways require. While being absorbed into the system, their lot improves. The Indian Railways is the world's fourth largest commercial or utility employer, by number of employees, with over 1.4 million employees- a change in bench mark sets the trend for a changed economic perspective that will see these 1.4 Million employees and their families being harbingers of change.
Railways were first introduced to India in 1853 and by 1947, there were as many as forty-two rail systems. In 1951 the Indian Railway systems were nationalized as one unit- the Indian Railways, becoming one of the largest networks in the world. IR operates both long distance and suburban rail systems on a multi-gauge network of broad, metre and narrow gauges. It owns locomotive and coach production facilities. An ambitious Indian railways project proposes to build the highest railway track in the world overtaking the current record of the Beijing-Lhasa Railway line.
The history of rail transport in India began in the mid-nineteenth century. In 1849, a British engineer, Robert Maitland Brereton, was responsible for the expansion of the railways. The Allahabad-Jubbulpore branch line of the East Indian Railway was opened in June 1867. Brereton was responsible for linking this with the Great Indian Peninsula Railway, resulting in a combined network of 6,400 km. It therefore became possible to travel directly from Bombay to Calcutta. This route was officially opened on 7 March 1870 and served as inspiration for French writer Jules Verne's book 'Around the World in Eighty Day.