Howrah-Dehradun Express runs for 36 hours, yet it doesn’t have the facility, which is considered uneconomical
Will the Howrah-Dehradun Express get a pantry car?
This simple question is a point of hot debate in Rail Bhawan, headquarters of the Railways, underscoring the intricacies in providing the facility on a long-distance train, especially when the catering policy is set to be overhauled.
An answer remains elusive, but the travel time of the train justifies the demand: the train, running for 36 hours, tops the others in travel time.
Bengalis make for good tourists, most enjoying a vacation at least once a year. The point is whether they need some special treatment or not.
On the other hand, only a dozen pantry cars are made every year, and the choice is between a pantry car and a sleeper coach, because a locomotive can haul only a 24-coach rake. The Railways seems to prefer a sleeper coach to a pantry car.
Rajdhani and Duronto and other superfast trains, with fewer stoppages, are run with pantry cars.
The refrain among officials is that high-end passengers travelling in air-conditioned coaches usually buy meals from the pantry car.
Only 200-250 meal packets are getting sold, as most of the sleeper-class passengers carry their own meals. And it is not economical to run pantry cars for the benefit of just 250 passengers, and it is sensible to run a sleeper-class coach that can take in 72 passengers.
At present, 302 trains have pantry cars, and 1,000 long-distance trains need to be fitted with one.
The need for pantry cars will increase sharply when the new catering policy is implemented in May.
The policy will requite contractors to set up base kitchens to serve healthy and hygienic food to passengers.
The activation of a food helpline has helped. The Railways have received 150 complaints, and 125 were settled instantly. Several contractors were penalised. The helpline has sent out a message to the contractors that they can no longer take passengers for granted and they are under constant watch.
Officials reckon that things will improve after technically sound services are put in place under the new regime. Most of the old caterers will be replaced with new caterers who will have to meet stringent conditions and hire trained staff.