Gatimaan Express: Much ado about seven minutes

Published: Thu, 04/07/2016 - 13:19

Nikhil Thiyyar Delhi

In his article published in 1917 shortly after he returned from South Africa, Mahatma Gandhi had this to say about his train journey," There were during this night as many as 35 passengers in the carriage during the greater part of it. Some lay on the floor in the midst of dirt, and some had to keep standing. Not during the whole of the journey was the compartment once swept or cleaned. The result was that every time you walked on the floor or rather cut your way through the passengers seated on the floor, you waded through dirt. The closet was also not cleaned during the journey, and there was no water in the water tank.” Almost 99 years since Gandhi wrote about the miserable experience he had travelling the length and breadth of the country by rail, not much has changed. Sure, there is the talk of bio-toilets, better food quality, and bullet trains, but, the experience of the common man who travels by train remains less than pleasant even today.

Unreserved travel continues to be a relentless nightmare. Priority trains like Rajdhani and Shatabdi run on time but at the cost of delaying other trains. Trains are still habitually delayed, and this singular reality is accepted as the status quo. What is perhaps perplexing is that despite train delays being tracked to the last minute on the net, the data lies unused and the existing bottlenecks which cause delays remain. Instead of focusing on the convenience of the ordinary passenger and improving basic amenities like food and clean toilets, we have gimmickry masquerading as national pride.

An example of this is the BJP led government's cherished desire to bring the bullet train to India. Creating and maintaining a network of high-speed railway trains like the bullet train is an expensive proposition with at least a minimum investment of one lakh crores needed. The bullet train remains a pipe dream, but the Gatimaan Express is now a reality. From the safety point of view, the Research Design and Standards Organisation, the Railways research arm, said that to make way for this one train, at least one block section around seven kilometers ahead will have to be kept free of trains. As a consequence, other trains will be crippled, effectively reducing the line’s capacity.

During peak traffic hour, the Gatimaan will affect at least ten super fast trains and an equal number of slower freight trains on its route. The Taj Express, two Swarn Jayanthi Express trains, the Punjab Mail, the Chennai Gharib Rath and the Chennai Rajdhani are among the trains with thousands of passengers that will be affected. The Indian Railways claims that the Gatimaan Express will run at 160km/hour and cover the distance between Delhi and Agra in 100 minutes. What has perhaps gone unnoticed is that this 160 km/hour train will be running on a section where there are countless unmanned crossings and unfenced areas. India’s fastest train has already claimed two victims, running over Yogesh and Arvind, both school children, during its trial run. Safety concerns notwithstanding, one wonders why there is so much hype surrounding the train.

The train will take 100 minutes to reach Agra as opposed to the 109 minutes it takes the Shatabdi to cover the same distance. Hundreds of crores have been spent so that a set of well-heeled passengers could save 9 minutes of their time. Interestingly the first Shatabdi which was rolled out thirty years ago by Madhavrao Scindia took 117 minutes to reach Agra. Thirty years since that day, now a passenger can travel 17 minutes faster. Some progress that. Meanwhile, India awaits its bullet train, and the world awaits to see the Loch Ness monster. Both events are unlikely to happen soon.