Like many bad ideas that get implemented, this one too must have sounded like a great idea at first. To let the not so affluent enjoy luxury train services, the railways created an additional AC economy class on the new Rajdhani Express-like Duronto train between New Delhi and Sealdah (West Bengal).
The intention was to ferry as many people as possible in the two coaches allotted for this special class.
So they went for the coaches that carry 78 passengers instead of the usual 64, thanks to the additional third side berths inserted between the side upper and the side lower berths, and a few structural changes.
But by giving her green signal to this plan, the ill-advised Rail Minister Mamata Banerjee pumped in fresh life to a concept that has already earned the railways enough infamy. Everyone, including railway fans, hates the ‘three side berths’ design.
“It is made by people who don’t view passengers as humans but as cattle,” said Shashank Nanda of Indian Railways Fan Club Association (IRFCA), a 20-year-old nationwide network of Indian Railways enthusiasts.
The third side berth kills any headroom for all the three side passengers, who have no option but to lie down — and bang their heads against the berth above them every time they try to get up.
And in case any of the side berth passengers wants to sleep late or wake up early, he does not have any place to sit.
The sitting arrangement during the day is even more ridiculous.
The unfortunate traveller with the third side berth is supposed to sit in one of the standard inside berth seats, cramming the space for just about everyone.
“It is one of the biggest design blunders ever on the railways,” Nanda said.
Banerjee’s predecessor Lalu Prasad introduced this novelty on the Garib Rath trains — the popular air-conditioned, super-fast travel between major destinations at non-AC Sleeper fares.
But while the Garib Rath got away with it by offering extraordinarily cheaper fares, the Duronto’s so-called Economy is only Rs 55 cheaper than the standard AC three-tier.
Indian Railways knows all this only too well. In fact, it has been trying to phase out this idea and move on.
It detached the third side berths from the retrofitted AC thee tier and the sleeper coaches. Almost all trains except the Garib Raths have dropped these specially designed economy coaches now.
“Now we have also figured out a way to accommodate more people without the contentious third side berth,” said a Railways spokesperson.
The new coaches are slightly longer, and altered to space 72 passengers comfortably without any third side berths. In fact, the Duronto from Chennai does have these coaches.
Despite this, what prompted the rail minister to go for this junk of a concept is anybody's guess. Like we said, it must have sounded like a great idea at first.