All keyed up, Sangeeta Barooah Pisharoty boards the brand new double-decker train to Jaipur only to note a clutch of glitches

“Look, its seats are like that of an airplane.”

As I clamber into the colourful Jaipur-Delhi Super Fast Double Decker AC Train at the Sarai Rohilla station in New Delhi, all keyed up about travelling in a double-decker — my first time — hear this pleased noting of a passenger relating it to another equally thrilled sort. Air travel is still the benchmark of comfort travel in India, and if a train journey can grant even an ounce of it, it is such a happy surprise. So, those passengers are happy, as are many others streaming into the coach; they are leaping up and down the decks, clicking pictures with their cameras and hand phones. Some are even calling their friends and family narrating how great it looks in a vibrant yellow and red exterior, how close the lower deck seats are to the floor of the platform, how one can see the roof of an adjacent train from its upper deck.

Shortly, the train begins to roll out of Sarai Rohilla station, leaving behind its rather grimy platform, meandering through rows of shanties by the track, its occupants gawking at the passing train with a palpable sense of wonder. After all, the train is just a fortnight old.

Before I realise it, the train lumbers into its next stop, Gurgaon. A quick look at it makes me think why the developers, while approving of the “Manhattan style” high-rises all around the station, forgot to draw out a plan for it.

“Now the train will stop only at Gandhi Nagar station, six km from Jaipur main station,” the passenger on my adjacent seat informs me in case I am not aware.

Soon, names of stations like Pataudi Road, Inchapur, Khalipur and such like pass by; soon the loud talking reduces to a soft whisper. And then comes a waiter wailing, “Chai, coffee…” Suddenly, it dawns on a host of passengers that food is to be bought. Our guy who was so impressed with the plane-like seats, comments, “It is like Spice Jet, buy your food.” But the joke is lost on others. There’s a reason. Usually, when it comes to train travel, chair cars are associated with food delivered at your seat on trays by uniformed waiters. So it happens in trains like Shatabdi, which most passengers are used to when travelling from Jaipur to Delhi and back till now. “There is canteen service in the train, it doesn’t have a pantry,” says a passing waiter whose uniform flashes the catering company he belongs to: Prabhdas and Company. Mumbles waft through the coach. And by and by, waiters go past the aisles, selling everything from bottled water to snacks to chips to chocolate. “A bottle of water could have been included in the Rs.327 fare,” one upset passenger remarks.

I try out its vegetable patty, pretty awful. I try out its samosa, too bad. Around 9 p.m. — still over an hour to our final destination — the one on the next seat stops a waiter asking for dinner. “Sir, we had very few packets of biryani; all sold out.” He quickly dials home, “Keep dinner for me. Awful train, no food.” I am to go to a hotel for the night, hoping to get some grub there.

Just before we reach Gandhi Nagar, I spot a ticket collector for the first time. He sees me taking out the ticket and says, “It’s ok.”

Disabled-unfriendly

My return journey from Jaipur a day later is also by this train. With some trepidation, I board it this time, around 5.30 a.m. The familiar scene plays before me: happy passengers checking the seats, the toilets, the decks, clicking photos, calling friends and family. There comes the waiter, “Paani, chai, coffee…” provoking people to ask, “Water is not free?”

Also adding to their irritation is the delay, of about 40 minutes. And when it moves, it stops at many unscheduled stations. Someone points out that the display board, even after it has come 200 kms from Gandhi Nagar station, is still showing it as the next stop. I note how unfriendly this ‘new-age’ train is for a disabled passenger. It has steps to reach the lower decks; steps for the upper decks, no audio announcements for the visually impaired. The toilet doors are too narrow.

Then, a railway official comes distributing forms to passengers, seeking their comments. Frantically, everyone fills them up.

As we disembark at Sarai Rohilla station, 45 minutes later than the scheduled time, 10.30 a.m., I hear grumbles, “Double-decker or not, a train will always be delayed in India”; “passengers are always taken for granted”. And then this one, “Chalo, pahuch to gaye.” Indeed.