The writer, a neuroscientist, recounts her less-than-happy journey aboard the prestigious Rajdhani Express from the city

I am writing this in the aftermath of the horrific accident that took place in the 3 AC compartment of the Bengaluru Nanded Express train recently. I travelled to Delhi and back on Rajdhani Express (Trivandrum-Nizamuddin ) by Third AC recently in November and December 2013. I was shocked at the dilapidation and loss of standard I saw in this flagship train – the lack of cleanliness, lack of courtesy by staff and most importantly the food that is dished out to passengers who are paying close to Rs. 865 for this.

Cleanliness

The corridors of the train was always filled with empty bottles, cups, paper bags and other items thrown by passengers. The entrance to the compartment had an overflowing garbage can with refuse falling all around, a sink that often clogged, dirty bathrooms and to top it all, the food served was being sorted out and kept in trays in the middle of all of this. On my onward journey (November 15-17, 2013), no cleaner ever came to clean the compartment till the third day when we were approaching Delhi and I had complained. He probably came so that he could get his baksheesh later. I never saw the toilets being cleaned or water refilled as it happens on other long distance trains like the Kerala Express.

Food

On my journey to Delhi, the same food was being served for dinner on the first night, lunch and dinner on the second day. Moreover, the quality of the food was very bad. No coffee was served in a train which goes and comes from the south.

There were many Gujaratis returning from vacation in Kerala, all of whom lodged complaints with the manager in charge and also got a food inspector to come and see things at Panvel station on November 16. They also ordered food from an online portal and got it delivered at Panvel.

While returning on December 17, anticipating this situation, I brought food with me. I also started complaining from the first day. Hence the attendants took to making me special food- I got kadhi chawal one day and bhindi sabji on another occasion. They also served upma, kesari halva for breakfast on the second day. This shows that complaining does work. It will be better if there were many more voices speaking up.

I did write to the Chairperson, Railway Board, on reaching Delhi although I have not heard from them yet. Before awarding contracts to private contractors, the railways should take into account the desired food of the large majority of passengers, who, in this case, are Keralites or people going to Goa. There are many excellent South Indian food items that can be served on this route. In fact, certain stops such as Madgaon, Panvel, Kota, Mangalore can be dedicated food stations from where good, healthy local food can be picked up by the railways if they are reluctant to cook on the train.

Why has the caterer been given a contract when they do a bad service and there are so many complaints? Having done this route several times on trains like Kerala Express, GT, Jayanti Janta among others, I can say without hesitation that the food served on these trains is better, cheaper and one also has the alternative of buying from the station if one wants to. In Rajdhani one is trapped into eating this garbage as one has already paid for it.

Courtesy and service

The waiters have a hard time as they do not have an attendants’ room in every compartment where they can rest, sleep and a pantry area (not close to the toilets) where they can arrange the food. Many of them sleep on the floor, blocking the exit doors, which is also a safety hazard. Indian trains need to learn a lesson or two from the trains in China regarding design. However, the staff also have become used to mediocre service. I was told that if I am in First AC they can prepare whatever I wanted but in Third AC I would have to eat paneer day in and day out.

In the light of the horrible accident, let me point out that I will not be surprised if something similar were to happen in the Rajdhani. Fellow passengers told me that other Rajdhani trains (to Mumbai, Bangalore, Kolkata) were not run so badly.

Given this, I have now booked on Kerala Express for my next trip to Delhi even though it takes nine hours longer. I hope that this article will encourage other passengers to speak up and together we can get the authorities to take passengers from Kerala seriously and provide us A class service when we pay for it.