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We recently travelled to Jhansi aboard the now second-fastest train in India (the 12050/ Gatimaan Express, with a maximum speed of 160kmph) and returned to Delhi on the now third-fastest train in India (the 12001/ Habibganj–New Delhi Shatabdi Express, with a maximum speed of 155kmph). One was brilliant, the other was terrible, and thereby hangs a tale.
The coaches for both trains had mostly the same interiors and exteriors. They also took around the same amount of time. However, that’s where the similarity ended.
The Gatimaan has a ‘no concessionary tickets allowed’ clause, while the Shatabdi has a host of concessions. Because of this, the difference in quality of passengers and onboard service is like that of cheddar cheese and adulterated paneer. On the Gatimaan, we had an ex-minister, ex-CEC and a senior political couple travelling on tickets they had purchased; on the return trip, we had a vice president and an ex-CM with quite an entourage. On the Gatimaan, trolleys went around serving good food; on the Shatabdi, we got swill shovelled at us and trays stacked one over the other.
The Gatimaan’s coaches had perfectly round steel wheels that coasted along at 160kmph; the Shatabdi had flat spots that created massive vibrations once the train exceeded 130kmph.
Executive class coaches and seats in the Gatimaan appeared to have been cleaned well, probably because they get over 12 hours for the night halt and about three hours at the Jhansi turnaround. Executive Class coaches and seats in the Shatabdi were stained and unclean, probably because they get just about six hours for the night halt and barely 30 minutes at the Habibganj–Bhopal turnaround. Plus, the kind of personnel in the latter probably makes it dirtier—the ex-CM had a retinue of about two-dozen individuals.
The catering staff and management on the Gatimaan seem to have an operational policy on how to segregate vegetarian and non-vegetarian fare, and deliver all waste to an agency in Jhansi; the catering staff on the Shatabdi appear to have no adherence to any policy and the result is a miserable experience for passengers.
Same Indian Railways, nearly the same route, two widely different experiences. A big reason for this may be that freebooters are not allowed on the Gatimaan. I spotted the train superintendent double checking the security personnel on his train; on the Shatabdi it seems they’ve given up and anybody claiming to be security rides on the house.
If you are a tourist heading for the Agra– Gwalior–Jhansi circuit, please use the Gatimaan Express. It’s not only true to its name, but also justifies being a train worthy of this millennium.
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