In one of his first official tasks, President Pranab Mukherjee will need to take a call on not entirely mundane a matter: Should a presidential saloon be constructed and made available for his use?
The old presidential saloon – of 1956 vintage – was declared un-serviceable by the Railways in 2006 and plans to construct a new carriage at an estimated cost of Rs. 3 crore have not moved forward.
But with Raisina Hill having a new occupant, the Railways are planning to extend the courtesy of offering to build a new presidential saloon. A proposal in the matter is likely to be shortly moved to the Rashtrapati Bhawan, sources said.
With outgoing President Pratibha Devisingh Patil and her predecessor APJ Abdul Kalam not preferring to take to the rail
tracks, the issue (construction of a new carriage) has remained on the backburner.
On one occasion (in 2008), then President Pratibha Patil had desired to travel by the Presidential saloon. The Railways were fortunately saved the embarrassment, as the then President subsequently dropped the idea.
Past three Railways Ministers including present incumbent Mukul Roy (besides Dinesh Trivedi and Mamata Banerjee) did not once travel by the saloon or the Reserved Accommodation (RA) – as these carriages are known in Railways jargon.
Banerjee’s predecessor Lalu Prasad was the last of the royals – having used the railway saloon as many as 369 times during his tenure.
Most of Prasad’s journeys were in his home state of Bihar, while he also travelled in the customized carriage to destinations including Puri, Jammu, Udaipur, Ajmer, Ludhiana and Varanasi.
The Railways have 70 AC saloons and 222 non-AC category carriages in its inventory that can run on the Broad Gauge lines. Besides, there are 24 non AC and 2 AC category saloons that can run on the Meter Gauge.
Dedicated saloons are kept in readiness for the President and the Railways Minister – as also for senior Railways officers including the Chairman and members of the Railway Board, the General Managers of different railway zones – who mostly use the facility on inspection duties.