30th November 2017: Indian Railways has embarked on an ambitious plan to upgrade 30 passenger trains over a 3 month period to its new ‘Swarn’ or Gold Standard. The budget for this project is 25 crore, which is 250,000,000 Indian rupee, which at the current exchange rate is approximately $3.95 million US Dollars.
The Swarn Standard: This ambitious modernisation plan for trains in India will focus on 10 objectives –
- Improving on-board entertainment systems.
- Introducing trolley services for catering.
- Installing automatic doors on toilets.
- CCTV in all carriages monitored by Railway Police.
- Vinyl coatings on seats and sleeper berths.
- Fluorescent strips in the aisle.
- Improving sanitation by placing dustbins and disposable toilet seat covers in train toilets, and odour control systems in the train carriages.
- Braille incorporated into existing signage.
- WiFi in the train carriages.
Which trains are being upgraded: The plan is to upgrade 15 Rajdhani and 15 Shatabdi train services. Rajdhani trains are fully air-conditioned trains and passengers receive complimentary meals on board. There are currently 46 Rajdhani trains in service in India. Shatabdi trains are express day trains, which are fully air-conditioned and upon which which passengers receive free water, juice, tea and coffee. There are currently 52 Shatabdi trains in operation in India.
Analysis: This is promising start to improving the standard of train services in India. However, there are some formidable obstacles for Indian Railways to overcome before any project to improve train services in India has any real impact. Firstly, the scale of the railway network is enormous. This project will only renovate 32% of Rajdhani trains and 29% of Shatabdi train services. Less than a third of India’s premium railway stock and a tiny fraction (0.2%) of the approximately 13,000 passenger train which operate daily on India’s railway network. The second problem is that India’s trains get damaged very quickly. This kind of initiative has been attempted before. For example on the Tejas train from Mumbai to Goa which sustained very heavy damage on the first occasion it carried passengers. Indian Railways will need to address the behaviour of some it travelling public in order to keep the trains in good condition. Thirdly, there is an ongoing issue of maintenance. A common complaint is that the current stock passenger carriages are not maintained very well. It will be of little use installing new upgraded features on trains if they are not maintained properly.