When no-frills airlines came, it was said that was the end of the railways' first and second air-conditioned classes. The premium services, however, had many takers.
The railways are finally gearing to scale up their facilities for premium passengers, something an air passenger takes for granted. The New Delhi railway station will soon host a "VIP Lounge" meant only for those travelling in these classes.
Akin to those at international airports, the lounge will offer all the trappings of luxury on the go. Northern Railway has allotted space for it at the Ajmeri Gate side of the station and given the contract to the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC).
The space can host close to 100 passengers at a time. For a fee, which has not yet been set, lounge users will have the luxury of getting pampered in automatic foot-massagers, ordering trolley services for luggage to their berths and indulging in gourmet snacks.
All this while, they would remain connected with the world as their electronic devices, including mobile phones, would be connected to the ultra-fast wifi network, meant only for the patrons. Half a dozen LCD screens will add to infotainment.
"One could also order taxi service and pickups at destination stations from the lounge. The snacks served will be of markedly high quality. The idea is to replicate an international airport-like experience at our station as we believe there is a market for that now," said Ashwani Lohani, divisional railway manager, Northern Railway.
The lounge service will have a separate micro-site online to be accessed through computers and mobile devices, and could be pre-booked after providing the PNR number on the ticket. After gauging the response of this service, it would be extended to other big stations like Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai and Bangalore.
Officials are currently toying with various ideas for the lounge. Some of them will eventually make the cut. Starting with alarm-clock-operated "snooze couches" for waiting passengers to welcome kit of toiletries upon check-in-ideas are bordering on the kind of luxury never experienced at railway stations.
Washrooms are being given special attention as officials are thinking of forming a strict, 24X7 sanitation routine for toilets and bathrooms with top-of-the line fitments and consumables. The surge in the number of passengers in the upper classes - AC-I and II - in recent years has set the base for this kind of a service, officials said.