Travel by AC coaches to cost less than travel by low-economy airlines

India's longest rail journey, from Dibrugarh in Assam to Kanyakumari in Tamil Nadu by the newest train, Vivek Express, costs just Rs. 673 by second class sleeper.

Travelling the distance in AC comfort will take the fare up to Rs. 2,573 (two-tier) and to Rs. 1,878 (three-tier). Even then, it is cheaper than the low-economy air fare, which is around Rs. 12,200 from Dibrugarh to Coimbatore and, Rs. 9,500 for a round trip.

Nripendra Bhattacharyya , Public Relations Officer of the Northeast Frontier Railways, said the 18-coach Vivek Express — one two-tier coach, two three-tier coaches, seven sleeper coaches, six general second class compartments, one pantry car and two SLRs — will have 52 stops. The pantry car staff, numbering 16, have their work cut out. “I am very excited to be on this historic journey,” said pantry staff manager Raman Mahato.

“However, my worry is to ensure passenger satisfaction for, food will be one of the most important components for making such a long journey comfortable.” There is no cooking on the train. Food served on board will be picked up from catering bases at stations along the way. On the first day, lunch was picked up at Tinsukia and dinner at Dimapur.

The meal pick-up points on subsequent days are Palasa, Ernakulam, Durgapur, Vijayawada, Coimbatore and Thiruvananthapuram. Breakfast will be picked up at the Thiruvananthapuram Junction on the last day as the train is scheduled to reach Kanyakumari at 8 a.m.

It was decided that all meals be vegetarian on the inaugural run. Mr. Mahato, however, hastened to give the assurance that non-vegetarian food would be served when the regular service began on November 26.

All railway employees on the train were excited about being assigned work on the inaugural run on Saturday.

“I will be away from my wife and my seven-year-old daughter for 16 days,” said Tahiruddin Ahmed of Upper Assam's Sivasagar town, a bed roll assistant. He and his four of colleagues will take care of passengers in the AC coaches. All the five will be on duty during the return journey from Kanyakumari as well.

“I am very happy I will be travelling the entire distance on the very first run,” said Mr. Ahmed, who joined the Railways only 18 months ago.

The new train will serve tourists, people who travel from the northeast to southern India for medical treatment, and students and youth from the region studying and working in the southern States, besides those from the south working in the northeast, Mr. Bhattacharyya told The Hindu.

A good number of people from Kerala work in the northeast in various defence establishments such as the Border Security Force and the Border Roads Organisation and in oil companies. Many are teachers. Some are associated with the church.

In recent years, a large number of youth from Assam and other northeastern States have been migrating to the southern States, in search of jobs. Many are employed in factories, restaurants and shopping malls.

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