The Taj Commonwealth Special Shatabdi train being run by Northern Railway at the request of the Commonwealth Games Organising Committee between Delhi and Agra is proving to be a hit with Games athletes, delegates, coaches and officials with every successive trip it is making.

The numbers itself tell the story. From a total booking for 139 people on its maiden trip on Wednesday, the train received booking for 350 people on Saturday out of a total seating capacity of about 600. According to Northern Railway officials, the reason for the train's increasing popularity could be attributed to the positive feedback and word-of-mouth publicity from those who have travelled by the train and also the fact that most players prefer to travel only once they are through with their respective competitive events.

As per the tie-up of Indian Railways with the OC, the cost of running this exclusive service for foreign visitors would be adjusted between the Ministry of Railways and the OC with the players and delegates availing of the service for free. Apart from travel, the train service boasts personalised service with waiters wearing traditional Indian attire of sherwanis complete with safas on their heads. Effort has been made to offer a menu which is a mix of both Indian and continental cuisine.

Some of the items on offer are chicken tikkas, paneer tikkas, kathi rolls, hash browns, croissants, buns and sandwiches to present a mix of “familiar yet different”. According to catering department officials, care is being taken to keep the food non-spicy and stock up more on cold milk and guava juice which is being preferred by the players.

A Northern Railway official said: “While there are items such as samosas, gulab jamuns in the menu we are also offering items like cakes, brownies and other food items that are being cooked and prepared in the train's pantry car itself and served in pre-set trolleys and trays to give them a taste of Indian royalty. Overall there has been special appreciation of the quality of food and catering service and the facilities provided for physically-challenged athletes who are wheelchair bound.”

According to Northern Railway, about 20 to 25 physically-challenged persons have availed themselves of the train service so far. The train's décor too has been designed specially depicting important sportspersons particularly those associated with the Indian Railways. Important historical places in India have also been depicted inside and outside the train.

The Northern Railway official said: “We are in fact expecting a further surge in the booking over the weekend. We have already played host to several team members from England, Wales, Trinidad and Tobago and Gibraltar. After the first trip itself we were overwhelmed after reading the feedback forms as the players had left touching messages such as ‘Thank you India'.”

Out of the eight planned trips in total, the last would be run on October 16. Consisting of one executive chair car, eight air-conditioned chair cars and two luggage and generator car coaches, the Taj Commonwealth Express train departs from Delhi Safdarjung station at 8 a.m. to reach Agra Cantonment at 10-35 a.m. The return service of the train starts from Agra Cantonment at 5-30 p.m. to reach Delhi Safdarjung station at 7-40 p.m. the same day.