Mumbai-Pune train: Dine like a Queen no longer?
Central Railway sources have said that existing coaches of the Deccan Queen (as also some other trains under its remit) will be replaced by those manufactured by German company Link-Hoffman-Busch.Updated: Apr 26, 2019 03:18 IST
The good news is that the Deccan Queen, which operates between Mumbai and Pune, is set to be fitted with new, better coaches by the end of the year. The bad news is that it’s famous ‘dining car’ may be scrapped.
Central Railway sources have said that existing coaches of the Deccan Queen (as also some other trains under its remit) will be replaced by those manufactured by German company Link-Hoffman-Busch.
These are bigger in size for carrying more passengers and load, lighter, better streamlined for greater speed, and with advanced safety features including anti-collision technology in case of accidents.
None of this is contestable. In fact, the Central Railway needs to be commended for being far-seeing. Too often, improvements in trains and facilities are neglected, till they become derelict and a bane rather than boon for passengers.
But why should such scaling-up deprive a train of its essential character?
Started on June 1, 1930 (run on electricity from inception), the Deccan Queen has been among the marquee trains in the country and remains so despite the proliferation of air and road travel between Mumbai and Pune in the past couple of decades.
The best commute even today from the city to Pune is by this train. The route is marvellous, going as it does over a scenic section of the Western Ghats, taking in the hill stations of Khandala and Lonavala.
The Deccan Queen’s punctuality is legendary, and over the last nine decades, commute between the two cities has been virtually hassle-free — for business people, those employed in either city (especially Mumbai because of the timings), holidayers and, of course, punters during horse-racing season.
Over the years, the colour scheme of the train has undergone several changes (my favourite used to be Oxford blue, which made it look stately and distinctive), but the appeal of the Deccan Queen goes beyond the nitty-gritty. It has to do with its ethos that, apart from its other sterling qualities was because of the profile of the commuters – especially the frequent travellers – the staff, and above all, the venerated ‘dining car’ adjoining the pantry.
Food is integral to a journey by the Deccan Queen. What I still recall fondly are omelettes and bread, cutlets; but the French toast was the most coveted and daily commuters would place their order in advance for the return journey.
While pantry service is available throughout the train, the ‘dining car’ has a flavour all its own, enjoying an exalted status even among regular travellers. It is more than just a place to sit and eat — it is an adda where news, gossip and debate flows.
Having travelled fairly frequently by the Deccan Queen in my earlier days, I found this fascinating and over time, forged a loose profile of the dining car users: curious, opinionated and argumentative. Banter on every issue is the staple, but discussions can get passionate and oftentimes hot-tempered, though only as long as the journey lasted. By the next journey, the past was buried and new issues would crop up.
For instance, I can imagine what would be on the daily ‘debate menu’ in the dining car these days: Will the Lok Sabha elections give a clear verdict or will it be a hung Parliament? Should Pragya Thakur be contesting? How much of a dent will Raj Thackeray’s diatribes against PM Modi make? Did Congress go funk in fielding Priyanka Gandhi from Varanasi etc?’’
Equally, it could be about Virat Kohli’s virtuosity compared to Steve Smith, Kane Williamson, and Joe Root; the folly or otherwise of leaving out Rishabh Pant from the World Cup squad; or big-ticket Bollywood stars and their political leanings.
By and large, everyone knows everyone else in the dining car, which makes the atmosphere much like that of a club. Even if people are not in conversation with each other, they remain connected. This gives the Deccan Queen a unique identity, and I find it inexplicable that the Central Railway would want to erase this.
It has happened in the past too, when the dining car was scrapped in December 2014 but was restored when there were protests from commuters. Zonal rail officials say they have written to the Railways board to ensure that the new-look Deccan Queen retains the dining car. Hopefully, this request will be seen favourably.