Readers' take: Train of century must justify its name

  • Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
  • Updated: Aug 03, 2015 11:33 IST

Take responsibility, stop outsourcing services
While the Centre is making tall claims about introducing high-speed trains, those travelling on Shatabdi continue to be served food with substandard quality with shards of glass and insects too making an appearance in their meals at times. Toilets are sans water frequently and air conditioners, too, are non-functional at times. Although the railway service was introduced in India over a century and a half ago, the Indian Railways has no dedicated centre to gather feedback and remove bottlenecks. The root cause of the problem is that many services are provided through contractors, whose main motive is to earn maximum profit. This leads to fleecing of passengers, who are deprived of quality services. The government must provide all services, including pantry and sanitation, on its own, under strict supervision of senior officials.
SK Khosla, Chandigarh

Authorities have failed to act despite frequent complaints
Despite frequent complaints regarding the falling quality standards of food being served on Shatabdi, the railway authorities have failed to get their act together. All claims of close monitoring of the quality of food have fallen flat time and again. Norms should be followed strictly. Passengers must be given value for their money. Inspectors should visit the train before and after the journey to check cleanliness. During the journey, special staff should look after the quality of food.
Upendra Bhatnagar, Zirakpur

Award sincere staff to encourage others to follow their lead
When passengers are paying more than the normal fare, it is their right to get extra facilities. However, those travelling on Shatabdi face many inconveniences relating to food and sanitation. Solution lies in recognising the good work done by contractors and their staff (on the basis of passengers’ feedback) and awarding them. This will not only motivate them to keep working with honesty and sincerity, but also set a positive example for others. At the same time, it becomes the duty of passengers to maintain cleanliness.
Suman Kansal, Panchkula

Staff should maintain hygiene
Those travelling on a Shatabdi train deserve good-quality food. Passengers should have the option to order packaged or ready-to-eat food. Also, the staff serving the food should take care of personal hygiene. Besides this, cleanliness must be maintained in toilets.
Opinder Kaur Sekhon, Chandigarh

Make meals optional
Meals served for lunch and dinner on Shatabdi are exceptionally bad. And the worst part is that the passengers are forced to pay for these. Many regular passengers, in fact, say no to the meal. Therefore, meals should be made optional and quality of food items should be improved.
Anand, via email

Compulsory meals must, keep check on quality instead
Doing away with compulsory meals is not the solution to substandard food being served on Shatabdi. This system ensures tension-free travel for passengers. The need is to keep check on the raw food, its handling and storage and cooking practices. If proper food is not served and meals are made optional, people will, in any case, end up consuming some unhygienic food sold on railway platforms. Since the Railways includes food cost in the fare, it becomes its responsibility to ensure hygiene. Those serving the food should also maintain personal hygiene. Any lapse on the part of contractors should lead to punishment, not it monetary terms, but blacklisting of the firm.
Manjinder Pal Singh, SAS Nagar

Penalty on contractor mere eyewash
I have been travelling on Shatabdi four to five times a month for the past 20 years. I have seen its standards going from good to bad to worse, whether they are related to food quality, maintenance of toilets or cleanliness of coaches. To get rid of the poor-quality food, meals should be made optional. There should be two set of ticket price: one with food and one without it. It is an open secret that lakhs of rupees are exchanged between contractors and railway authorities. Imposing a penalty on a contractor for serving substandard food is mere eyewash. More needs to be done.
RK Gupta, Chandigarh

Take feedback of regular passengers
Shatabdi set very high standards when it started plying on the Chandigarh-Delhi route. Hygiene in coaches and the standard of food and services were impeccable; the staff was well-trained and cordial. On reaching the platform, while passengers alighted, police cordoned off the area for their safety and convenience. The train was rarely late and people, too, conducted themselves well inside the train. But, unfortunately, the railway authorities took things for granted, and did not work hard to sustain the standards. As a result, Shatabdi has slowly declined and lost its sheen. The railway authorities should take stock of the situation, including an honest feedback from people who regularly travel on this train.
Colonel RD Singh (retd), Ambala Cantt

Serve fresh meals only
Problems of people travelling on trains are aplenty. We pay more for Shatabdi, but get no extra facilities. Bathrooms are filthy and unfit for use. Boarding the train itself is a painful experience. Meals served on the train should be fresh. Passengers, too, can help the Railways by travelling light and being sensitive to needs of fellow travellers.
Col SK Aggarwal (retd), Panchkula

Give more meal options to travellers
Catering services need to be more professional and the quality of food should be up to the mark. Food charges may continue to remain a part of the fare, but passengers should be provided more options as per their taste and requirement. Boarding needs to be made smooth and hassle-free, especially at intermediate stations and when there are elderly people and children travelling. Windowpanes are often unclean. Toilets, too, are shabby and should have supply of toilet paper besides water.
DS Banati, SAS Nagar

Keep special needs of diabetes, heart patients in mind
When we travel by a train after purchasing a ticket, it becomes a simple question of a contract as per which we get the comfort level that we deserve. Clean coaches and toilets besides hygienic food are a part of the agreement when we purchase a ticket. The railways must remove all deficiencies. Many heart and diabetes patients travel on the train. Their special needs, too, should be taken care of while preparing the menu.
Devinder Garg, Chandigarh

Food quality, packaging not up to the mark
This debate is going on for a long time, but nothing has been done about it. The food quality on Shatabdi is awful and we are paying through the nose for it. Meals should be made optional as neither the quality nor packaging is up to the mark.
Soynia Sawhney, via email

Introduce regional dishes
Passengers should be offered a choice of meals, with more regional dishes, including South Indian, being introduced in the menu. Also, first-aid box should be readily available.
HS Puri, Chandigarh

How about a dining car?
To improve the situation, introduce dining cars on the evening Shatabdi. Here, people can order food of their choice just as in a restaurant. In this way, dining cost can be delinked from the ticket cost.
SC Luthra, Chandigarh

Railways more contractor-friendly than passenger-friendly
The Indian Railways introduced Shatabdi trains to provide best travelling facilities to passengers. The authorities charge high fares for travel on these trains and should provide passengers hygienic food items. When there is a deficiency in service, not only the contractor but the railway official concerned must be held responsible as well. It is an open secret that influential contractors get the contract. They pay cuts to the railway employees; they have a nexus so strong that the authorities turn a blind eye. The railways is more contractor-friendly than passenger-friendly. If the authorities are unable to provide hygienic food to passengers, why do they insist on mandatory meals? Why not have pantry dining cars where passengers can have food of their choice. Trains like Shatabdi should have a “passengers relation officer” to protect the rights of passengers.
Amar Jeet Kumar, SAS Nagar

Use modern technologies to ensure hygiene
New technologies, such as the control discharge toilet system, should be used for ensuring hygiene in toilets. Easily accessible dustbins should be installed. The meal on wheels should be made optional. Also, wifi facility should be provided on Shatabdi. These changes can take place only if the Indian Railways shows some will and ensure good financial management.
Bhavya Gaind, Panchkula

Eatables should not be stored next to toilets
The food served on Shatabdi, especially the evening train, is stale and lacks variety. Frequent travellers need more options. In addition to samosa and sandwich, sambar-vada and vegetable puffs can be added to the menu. Similar variations can be introduced in the morning and noon Shatabdi as well. Another irksome practice is the storage of food adjacent to toilets. Regular checks by the authorities to ensure that hygiene is maintained by caterers are must.
Raghunath Chhabra, Chandigarh

Special teams should inspect facilities regularly
The railway authorities should pay proper attention to cleanliness of toilets as well as coaches in Shatabdi. Passengers deserve good-quality food. They should also be provided with newspapers. Special teams should carry out checks to ensure quality food is being served to passengers and cleanliness is being maintained. Strict action should be taken against those found not performing their duty properly.
Sumesh Kumar Badhwar, SAS Nagar

Engage reputed catering firms
Presently, both quality and packaging of food being served on Shatabdi are awful. Meals like rajma, chana or chicken with rice served in transparent hygienic containers should be introduced. The current packaging has the top flap dipping into the curry or dal, which puts one off. Sandwich and juice combos can also be offered as a second option. Both these types of meals are served by airlines. Third-party audit is an excellent idea. Reputed food catering companies should be tried and customer feedback should be monitored.
Arun Vedhera, via email

Set specific quality standards for contractors to follow
How can doing away with meals be a solution to substandard food being served on Shatabdi? Instead of working towards improving the facilities, those responsible for making our journey comfortable cannot be allowed to discontinue services. The authorities should vow to provide better quality food. Contractors should be changed if they fail in their duties and specific quality standards should be set for them. Third-party audit will also help.
MPS Chadha, SAS Nagar

Railway network needs an overhaul
Shatabdi is better than any other train in India. It has better food and services besides boarding and disembarking facilities as most stations give it priority and provide easily accessible platforms. So, Shatabdi does return value for money spent. The problem is with the railway transport as such. It may be fast, cheap and extensive, but a lot needs to be done to improve it. First of all, the present railway network is overburdened and obsolete. Modernisation and new trains is the need of the hour. A major part of the railway budget is spent on payrolls, pensions and services provided to its employees; so that should be taken care of. There should be mechanisms for boarding and disembarking of the elderly people. There should be fencing around railway tracks near residential areas to prevent accidents.
Amrinder Singh Brar, Chandigarh

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