''There is a proposal with the Railway Board to rope in leading branded caterers to provide quality food and mineral water on premium trains,'' an official of Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) told UNI. The official said IRCTC had been asked by the Railway Board to hammer out details and operationalise the project at the earliest. ''The proposal has been with the Railway Board as part of its plans to upgrade passenger amenities,'' he pointed out.
As part of the plan, IRCTC plans to rope in ''caterers of national repute'' to provide quality food to the passengers of Rajdhani and Shatabdi trains.
''There is no plan to withdraw 'Rail Neer' from these trains but there is a proposal to serve mineral water to those travelling in First Class AC as their ticket fare is comparable to top rate airlines,'' he said.
The official pointed out that it would not be feasible to withdraw 'Rail Neer' altogether from Rajdhanis and Shatabdis as it caters to only 3 to 4 per per cent of the requirement of potable water for travelling passengers.
''However, there is definitely a plan to provide mineral water to at least those travelling in First Class AC,'' he said.
The official said IRCTC had begun preparing the plan for providing quality food to the travelling passengers. Initially, it would be implemented in Shatabdis and Rajdhanis. Later, it would be extended to other express trains in a phased manner, he added. Apparently, Railway Minister Lalu Prasad is not at all happy with the onboard catering in Shatabdis, Rajdhanis and several other express trains. The minister went into a sulk when the food served to him during his recent visit to Karnataka turned out to be ''insipid and unpalatable''.
Mr Prasad then made his displeasure known by summarily transferring three railway officials.
This was not the only instance when the minister was found fuming. Last year, he found to his dismay rodents and cockroaches moving freely in a passenger train in Bihar.
The grouse of Mr Prasad stems from the fact that the Railways have been losing passengers to low-budget airlines. During April-December last year, the number of passengers travelling in AC-II tier grew by only 7.46 per cent compared to 23.46 per cent a year earlier year. Similarly, the number of people travelling in AC-III tier grew by 21.04 per cent.
Besides improving catering, the minister may also announce some concession to AC class travellers by rationalising the fare structure.
In the last rail budget, a two per cent reduction in the busy season and a four per cent cut in lean season were announced. A similar announcement in this segment is likely in this year's budget to woo back the lost clientele.