Diva On Her Tracks

Vinod2070

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Interesting article on the first Rajdhani express.

Part-1


Rail Wonder: The first Rajdhani reaches the Howrah station on March 1, 1969
RAILWAYS: RAJDHANI
Diva On Her Tracks


Four decades on, the Howrah Rajdhani Express chugs along, shinier, but at the same pace

The Howrah Rajdhani

40 years ago



  • [*]Distance: 1,445 km from Howrah to New Delhi
    [*]Time: 17 hrs, 20 min
    [*]Stops: Three technical stops at Gomoh, Mughalsarai, Kanpur. No passenger pick-ups or drops.
    [*]Coaches: 9, built in Integral Coach Factory, Perambur—two power cars, 5 AC chair cars, 1 AC dining car, I AC first class coach Fully airconditioned Ran on diesel engine
    [*]Maximum Speed: 120 kmph
    [*]Fare: Rs 90 for AC chaircar, Rs 280 for AC first class, including food
    [*]Menu: Morning tea and biscuits, breakfast with choice of eggs, seasonal fruits, three-course lunches and dinners, choice of European/Indian cuisine
Now


  • [*]Frequency: Biweekly
    [*]Time: 17 hrs, 10 min ( 16 hrs, 55 min on return leg)
    [*]Stops: Dhanbad, Gaya, Mughalsarai, Allahabad, Kanpur (Patna instead of Gaya on Sundays)
    [*]Coaches: 18, new ones, manufactured under licence from LHB, Germany, at Railway Coach Factory, Kapurthala: 2 AC first class, 5 AC two tier, 7 AC three tier, 2 pantry cars and 2 power cars hauled by electric locomotives
    [*]Maximum Speed: 130 kmph
    [*]Frequency: Daily, plus one more daily Rajdhani from Sealdah, giving Calcutta two Rajdhanis
    [*]Fare: AC first class Rs 3,365, AC 2-tier Rs 2,010, and AC 3-tier 1,520 (chair car phased out)
    [*]Menu: Even more sumptuous, with juices, sandwiches, barfis and sandesh
    [*]Extra Amenities: Laptop and mobile charging facilities; fresh linen sealed in plastic bags; features commercial ads
    [*]Low: Derailed near Gaya in 2002, killing 108 people
    [*]High: Got ISO 2001 certificate for overall train management
Source: Eastern Railways
***

F
our decades later, the story can be told. India's first ever Rajdhani was launched, not with the exuberance that will mark its 40th anniversary celebrations this month, but with diffidence, trepidation and more than a little opposition. In the high noon of Indira Gandhi's socialist phase, railway bosses were worried that a fully airconditioned, well-appointed superfast train, would be perceived as an ameer rath. Lower down, there was consternation at the proposed leap from 100 kmph (the highest speed at which long-distance trains then ran) to 136 kmph, the designated maximum speed for the Rajdhani trials. "Our team was not welcomed in many places," says A.K. Banerji, part of the select group at the Railways' Research, Design and Standards Organisation (RDSO), which conceived and operationalised the Rajdhani in the late '60s. Objection after objection was raised, he recalls, when it took its proposal to the zonal railways whose territories the new train would run through; an engineer-in-chief even chose to switch jobs than be part of such a 'risky' venture.

If this RDSO team was able to keep going—with "Gandhian persistence", says Banerji—it was for two reasons. With civil aviation in its infancy, there was a widely acknowledged need for overnight trains that would enable business travellers to reach a major city early enough the next morning to get work done, and leave for home in the evening, saving on hotel fare. The new train linking Delhi and Calcutta would do just that by shrinking travel time from a backbreaking 24 hours (even 30, on some trains) to 17 hours.

The other compelling reason was the desire, at least within the RDSO, to demonstrate an Indian achievement at a time when record-breaking train speeds of 160-200 kmph were being achieved in the West.
 

Vinod2070

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Part-2 .

These Indian railway engineers knew a poor, vast country could not do a Japan, laying new tracks end-to-end to run phenomenally fast trains. But they believed that by selectively improving infrastructure—from rolling stock to tracks and bridges and signalling equipment—they could come up with the wholly indigenous 'poor man's' high-speed train. "We were young, we had a bounce in our steps—and we had a dream," says Banerji, who retired as general manager, Central Railways. A long slog later, including a six-month phase when an empty 'Shadow Express' was run up and down the Howrah-Delhi tracks at the required speed to remove every remaining doubt—with iron sleepers simulating the weight of passengers—the dream was realised.


Ratan Chandra


Reminiscing about the train's first journey, from Delhi to Howrah on March 1, 1969, and back again, on March 3, 75-year old Ratan Chandra, its catering manager, remembers huge excitement at Howrah, where people stood in long queues for platform tickets, just to see the gleaming train with its new coaches and windows "from which passengers could see what's outside, but those outside couldn't look in". As it raced through the hinterland, crowds gathered everywhere. The railways, still studiedly underplaying the Rajdhani, left out its launch in the events of the year listed in its annual yearbook. But as it turned out, there was little to worry about. Socialism or no socialism, the 'poor man's' high-speed train was a hit.

The Rajdhani's success was measurable in myriad ways, from attention in the developing world (the RDSO team was sent off to Thailand to help start an overnight train from Bangkok to Chang Mai) to the starred Parliament questions that kept railway officials busy over the years, as MPs demanded Rajdhani connectivity, in some shape or form, for their states, cities—and of course, their constituencies. The Rajdhani, spawning clone after clone (there are 21 pairs of trains now, plus the intercity Shatabdis replicating the same model), was both agent of national integration and a victim of exceptional success, as route after route became dotted with please-all commercial halts that diluted the train's usp.


The first Rajdhani made a huge splash in the media

Travelling by the Bombay Rajdhani in the mid-'70s for his book, The Great Railway Bazaar, American travel writer Paul Theroux wrote a dour account, dotted with fellow-passengers who mixed up their vs and ws, "black, thin" villagers who had set up home on platforms and "low hamlets" glimpsed through train windows. He was clearly not on the same train as the aspirational Indian middle classes who welcomed the Rajdhani as a finely distilled railway experience without the faintest suggestion of "bazaar". In their 90-bucks-a-journey chairs (expensive for those times) in airline-style cars barred to vendors, musicians and the other detritus of railway life, they listened to piped music and air news bulletins, and gorged on an unending supply of food, some of it quite posh. And revelled, recalls Outlook Traveller editor Kai Friese, in their own exclusivity. "The Rajdhani," he says, "is emblematic of the days when airconditioning was an upper middle class luxury. It reminds me of other obsolete stamps of comfort like 'dress circle' and 'kona coffee'." One fellow-traveller, he remembers, wanted hijra passengers ejected from the compartment, suggesting they had no place in a Rajdhani.
 

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Part-3

AC first class was even more rarefied, and remains so today, when the Rajdhani has lost that early tag of exclusivity. Journalist Mark Tully and his companion, writer Gillian Wright, who are unabashed Rajdhani fans, say there is little to beat that experience of tranquillity, fantastic food and extreme solicitousness. "It is the land equivalent of being on a liner," says Wright. And with politicians of every hue to be found in its cabins, an awfully useful place for a journalist to hang out. Travelling to New Jalpaiguri on the Guwahati Rajdhani, Tully remembers a discreet knock on his door, followed by an invitation for an intimate chat with former prime minister Chandra Shekhar. The train stopped at his constituency Ballia (at his behest, it was alleged by some) and was by far the most convenient way to get there, with the nearest airport about 100 km away.

It is reasons like these that have helped the Rajdhani hold its own in an era of cheaper air travel. Shri Prakash, member (traffic) of the Railway Board, claims a 90 per cent overall occupancy rate for Rajdhanis, and offering the example of the Calcutta Rajdhani, says demand has only grown. "From one biweekly train in 1969, we now have two Rajdhanis servicing the route everyday, and are now considering starting a third one," he says. But while Rajdhani fans would agree, give or take a few grouses, with his assertion that it provides an excellent niche service for those "not rushed for time, and wanting comfortable overnight travel", they have their complaints.

Overwhelmingly, the question asked, is: why, four decades on, are we still locked into 17-hour journeys and maximum speed of 130 or 140 km? As some point out, in the 40 years that the Howrah Rajdhani increased its speed from 120 to 130 kmph, China's rails went from nowhere to trains running at 300 kmph. Asks railway buff, Mohan Bhuyan: "Couldn't journey time at least have come down by one hour for every decade?" For the men who brought the Rajdhani into existence, too, the anniversary is bitter-sweet. "There has been a virtual freeze on the development of indigenous technology," says Banerji. "One Rajdhani has been replicated 200 times."

That, he points out, was not what it was all about, 40 years ago.
http://www.outlookindia.com/full.asp?fodname=20090309&fname=Rajdhani+(F)&sid=1
 

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