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Thursday, July 18, 2024

A tryst with Vande Bharat Express


The Indian Railways PRO is waiting. He browses through the list of names at Platform No.7 at Krantiveer Sangolli Rayanna Railway Station at Majestic. He greets each and every mediaperson arriving at the station.

High-speed trains keep strictly to time, and this is just a five-minute stop so there’s a rush to load bags and luggage before the automatic doors snap shut.

We are on a Press Tour to Mysuru, a journey that once took close to three hours on an usual train winding through the curves. The train has cut the journey time to nearly an hour.

Mysuru for me has always been a fascinating destination. The day before I was waiting for a visit to the heritage city once again. And I was fortunate to bite the bullet named the Vande Bharat Express. The railway authorities had booked tickets to Mysuru for us on it.

With a head full of wishful thinking, I braced myself for two hours of a suspense-full journey with pre-judged ideas. I cringed at the thoughts of a routine Shatabdi Express experience.

My first surprise struck me as I was boarding the train. My past travel experiences in Indian Railways instilled in me an expectation of hard and uncomfortable seats peppered with crispies and other unwanted stuff. Instead, I was treated with wide aisles, reclining chairs, and cushioned seats that did not leave behind the marks of previous passengers. I sat, in absolute awe.

My second surprise hit me as I looked at the airplane-like ambience of the non-executive cabin. Both sides of the row had three seats across and overhead compartments that could handle suitcases.

Though the railway authorities opted not to splurge for executive class on us, we were happy with our seats in non-executive. It was big and comfortable, with lots of legroom. The bathrooms were Western and Indian style pretty clean.

Cookies, Plum Cake, Maaza, Chapatis, Rice, Curd, Vegetables, Gulab Jamoon, and delicious ice cream fueled my journey, all served with a genuine smile worn by courteous stewards who came by regularly to ensure all rubbish was disposed of quickly.

The standard of cleanliness was something that stuck us all. After all, this was a non-executive class on a public train for ordinary folks like us.

I was playful with my neighbours at video screens at the far end mentioning the speed at which the train was moving and the arriving stations with timings displayed.

There was an added amiable atmosphere drooling at the latest features on Vande Bharat Express. We would look at each other, and could not stop talking about 180-degree rotating seats, divyang-friendly washrooms, seat handles with seat numbers in Braille letters, aesthetically-designed continuous windows, bio-vaccum toilets, touch-free amenities, diffused LED lighting charging points beneath every seat, individual touch-based reading lights, concealed roller blinds, and colour scheme of the train.

And of course, the permissible speed of the train was talked about repeatedly. We didn’t feel the speed too much, but really noticed it when we gazed at the window and saw the scenery whizzing by.

The maximum permissible speed of the train between Bengaluru and Mysuru is 100kmph and between Bengaluru and Chennai is 100kmph. The friendly Railways authorities on board with us informed us about the ongoing work to increase the speed between Bengluru to Mysuru to 110kmph and Chennai to Bengaluru to 130kmph. The train can reach a maximum speed of 180 kmph and can accelerate to a speed of 100kmph in 54.6 seconds, the authorities informed.

I switched on my laptop for half-an-hour to check on the news updates. Fortunately, there was a power outlet below my seat so I could plug in when the battery died. But there was no onboard wifi infotainment as of now.

By this time, I had lost count of how many times my eyebrows were raised. What had started as an uncertain travel experience created by past journeys, ended with confirmation that kosher has a real place in the travel industry.

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