New Delhi, Oct 3: The parameters of travelling in Indian trains are all set to be re-defined as 2403/2404 Amritsar-Saharsa Express --- the first in the series of Railway Minister Lalu Prasad's dream project ''Garib Rath'', the low-cost, air-conditioned train for the common man --- hits the track tomorrow on its maiden journey.
Mahatma Gandhi always travelled in the now-defunct third class compartment in an Indian train because poor people of the country could not afford the luxury of upper class journey.
Mr Prasad had originally planned to launch the train on October 2, the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, as a tribute to the Father of the Nation. Incidentally, it would have been in perfect tune with 'Gandhigiri', a Bollywood catchphrase that has come to be famously associated with national consciousness.
Even Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, now on a visit to South Africa, talked about Lage Raho Munnabhai, the latest Sanjay Dutt blockbuster that gave the word 'Gandhigiri'.
Despite missing the deadline by two days, the mood in the Railway Ministry is upbeat. ''We are going to make a success story of Garib Rath,'' Mr A K Chandra, DGM, East Central Railway, told UNI over phone from Patna.
It is bound to be a success story as it is targeted at lower middle class passengers. It is a big occasion for Indian Railways.
This experiment is unprecedented in any railway system in the world, Mr Chandra said.
Mr Prasad will flag off the train at Saharsha, once his parliamentary constituency in Bihar, at 0900 hrs, and it will reach Amritsar after a 26-hour journey. But the regular run of the train will be from the Amritsar side. The train leaving Saharsa at 0620 hrs will reach Amritsar at 0820 hrs the following day.
The introductory, first-of-its-kind AC three-tier train has altogether 18 coaches, comprising 12 sleeper coaches, four chair cars and two generator cars, which will supply power for the air-conditioning system.
It has 75 berths in sleeper coach as against 64 in the normal AC three-tier coaches. In chair cars, the number of seats has been augmented from 72 seats to 104.
The fares would be 40-45 per cent less as compared to normal AC trains, depending upon the destination. ''In a normal AC train, the fare for travelling in three-tier AC coach from Saharsa to Amritsar is Rs 1300. In Garib Rath, it is going to be about Rs 690 --- 45 per cent less,'' Mr Chandra said.
Despite the low fare, ministry officials are confident of earning profits. ''Since the number of seats has been increased, the Railways will make a profit of 20 per cent. Also, its basic aim to turn the non-AC travellers to AC trains will be achieved,'' they point out. Also, it will serve the minister's keen desire to woo back the rail travellers from the low-budget, no-frills airlines, they say.
The argument advanced by the officials is that if a full-capacity air-conditioned train has to be run, it should be able to undercut low-cost no-frills airlines.
Even the increase in the number of seats has been designed in a manner that will not create lack of space for the passengers. ''The berths have been reduced by three cm to create space for 75 seats. The linen room space has also been done away with and the AC control section minimised,'' says RCF General Manager Pratap Srivastava. The Rail Coach Factory (RCF), Kapurthala has built 14 coaches for the train, of which 12 will be used. The remaining two will be kept as spare for emergency purposes.
The Integral Coach Factory (ICF), Perambur has produced five chair cars for the train, four to be used in the current run.
Apart from its maiden run from Saharsa (Bihar) to Amritsar, the Garib Rath will also be run on three other routes--Nizammuddin-Patna, Nizammuddin-Bandra (Mumbai) and Nizammuddin-Chennai.
''We hope to introduce the three remaining Garib Rath trains before the introduction of next year's Railway Budget,'' Mr Chandra said.
Though the coaches are rated for speed up to 130 kmph, it will basically depend on the condition of the track.
Will the passengers not feel cramped in a reduced area and having to make do without bed sheets and blankets? RCF Chief Workshop Engineer T P Singh says, ''The temperature in the train would be maintained at 26 degree Celsius instead of 24 degree C in other AC trains. Because of the comfortable temperature, passengers will not need the linen. So, the exclusion of linen section will not affect the train in any way.'' Similarly, in chair cars, the width of the seats has been slightly reduced. These would not have reclining facility so as to provide sufficient leg space to the passengers.
The conventional AC chair car coach has four doors, while the Garib Rath chair car has six doors for ease in boarding and disembarking.
Besides, the train has, for the first time, special provision for accommodating physically challenged people. Wider corridor and toilet have been designed for them besides hand railings being placed conveniently to facilitate their easy movement. The coach has four berths--two for disabled people and two for the attendants.
Plans are afoot to further upgrade the Garib Rath coaches by increasing their capacity to 81 berths. This is proposed to be done by increasing the height of a coach to 4381 mm as against the present 4213 mm.
''This move has the potential to further reduce passenger fares.
However, it entails increasing the coach height, and hence would require safety clearance,'' a ministry official said.
''This design is in the pipeline and is being sent to the Research and Design Organisation (RDSO) department of the Railways for clearance,'' he added.
After analysing the performance and demand of the pro-poor train, the Railway Minister will give a go-ahead to manufacture of more such trains.
The inspiration for 'Garib Rath' came from Australia and Egypt where all trains are fully air-conditioned.
''India, like Egypt and Australia, is a tropical country and travelling in torrid heat and stifling humidity is not an easy proposition. It is because of this reason that the Railway Minister has introduced 'Garib Rath' for providing comfortable journey to the common people,'' he said.