Railway Minister Lalu Prasad's promise to make air-conditioned travel more affordable for the common man has been realised with the first "Garib Rath" on Friday rolling out on its maiden run from Amritsar to Saharsa in Bihar.
The train will begin its commercial run on October 4 after it returns to this Sikh holy city.
Promising 30 per cent cheaper fare for almost the same comfort in a three-tier air-conditioned coach, the new train will see more passengers being accommodated.
As against 64 berths in an AC three-tier coach, the Garib Rath has 75.
This reworked design has been achieved through better utilisation of available space and dispensing with the cubicle used to store linen, said Pratap Srivastava, general manager of the Railway Coach Factory at Kapurthala in Punjab and additional member (Production Units) in the Railway Board.
Manufactured at the Kapurthala coach factory, the new coaches have cubicles that are 13 cms smaller and berths that are 3 cms narrower. But for that, the passengers can have a comfortable journey if they travel light.
The train would also have air-conditioned chair cars with 120 seats each as against 90 in the non-air-conditioned Jan Shatabdi trains.
"The benefit of the low per head cost is being passed on to passengers, who would have to pay 25-30 per cent less fare," said Srivastava.
The train has several innovative features from bottle holders to better toilets, as also additional safety features.
Specially designed toilets have been fitted in the two power cars that form part of the train.
Painted in the original Gulf Red colour of Indian Railways, the new train will have 18 coaches. Of these 12 will be sleeper coaches while four will be chair cars. For the first time, there will be provision for four handicapped people with one attendant each.
The number of coaches is likely to be increased to 24.
In his budget speech for 2006-07, Lalu Prasad had promised four Garib Raths this year. While the first will operate between Sahrasa, near his constituency, and Amritsar, the other three will originate from Nizamuddin in the national capital and connect Bandra (Mumbai), Chennai and Patna.
The Sahrasa-Amritsar train will not pass through Delhi as it has been routed through Saharanpur and Moradabad on its 1,230 kms run that will take 22 hours.
The train can travel at speeds of 130 kms per hour.
"If the experiment succeeds we can well see more air-conditioned trains being operated for the common man," said Srivastava.
In fact, the railway ministry officials claim this could be the beginning of making all trains air-conditioned to take on the competition from low cost air carriers.